India’s second trip to the moon is coming together. The Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) has announced that Chandrayaan-2, the nation’s first lunar rover, will launch in March 2018, according to Jitendra Singh, a minister in the country’s northeast.
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Chandrayaan-2 will consist of a lunar orbiter, lander, and rover. Together, the trio will be studying the seismology of the Moon and providing the polar region’s first on-site thermal measurements. The lander will attempt a soft, controlled landing near the Moon’s southern pole and then let the rover out to roam.
Chandrayaan-2 will pay close attention to floating lunar dust, widely considered one of the biggest challenges in the face of human colonization. The lunar surface gets blasted with a lot of solar wind and ultraviolet radiation. It results in a layer of charged ions known as a plasma sheath in which dust particles are known to levitate. It’s an otherworldly headache, considering how dust can get into everything from spacesuits to rovers.
“The dust was so abrasive that it actually wore through three layers of Kevlar-like material on Jack’s boot,” Larry Taylor, director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee, once said describing a 1972 moon walk by NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt. For any long-term colonization, figuring out how floating lunar dust works is vital.
The ISRO will try to accomplish all this on a relatively cheap budget, spending 6 billion rupees, or about $93 million, which is around the price of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Chandrayaan-2 will be one of the first ISRO projects without any Russian involvement even at launch, instead hurtling into space at Satish Dhawan Space Center, located on a barrier island in the Bay of Bengal. Dating back to the 1970s, when the USSR helped India launch its first satellite, the two nations have traditionally been close on space missions. Chandrayaan-2 will be only the latest move towards Indian space independence, efforts which also include its own navigation system.
The ISRO’s first launch, Chandrayaan-1, was a mixed success: while it allowed India to enter the rarified community of four nations that have entered lunar orbit, and successfully studied the Moon for nearly a year before breaking down with technical difficulties. With a strong first showing, the ISRO hopes to raise the stakes on its scientific mission ever further with Chandrayaan-2.