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Chandrayaan-3 launch: Why landing on the Moon is a nightmare

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will launch the ambitious Chandrayaan-3 mission to the Moon on July 13 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

The spacecraft will embark on a nearly two-month-long journey to the Moon at the end of which it will attempt a ‘soft landing’ on the lunar surface. While Isro has successfully launched lunar missions in the past, landing on the Moon is a different ball game altogether, something which the entire country witnessed when the Chandrayaan-2 lander and rover crashed on the Moon in 2019.

Four years after that setback, Chandrayaan-3 will aim to do what Chandrayaan-2 couldn’t. However, the Moon is not gonna make it easy.

Why is the Moon so challenging?

Landing on the Moon requires multiple high-tech systems to align precisely, functioning together like a well-oiled machine. These include pinpoint navigation guidance, accurate flight dynamics, clear terrain imagery, perfectly timed thruster firings, and ultimately, the ability to decelerate at the right moment and at the right speed to reach that right landing spot.

A misstep in any of these processes can – and often does – lead to mission failure.

The scientist explains that once a Moon-bound lander separates from the propulsion module and begins its descent towards the lunar surface, it must carefully control both the speed at which it drops to the surface as well as the rate at which it swings sideways.

The lander’s speed needs to be reduced autonomously to three meters per second to ensure a soft landing. Thrusters (engines) will be fired to achieve this reduction in speed and control the lander’s orientation during descent.

Earlier this year, Japan’s ispace encountered a problem in this crucial phase of its attempt to land on the Moon. Its Hakuto-R lunar lander failed to slow down in time due to an altitude miscalculation, leading to mission failure. India’s Chandrayaan-2 had experienced a similar fault caused by a software glitch.

Gravity thou art a…

While the Moon lacks an atmosphere, it does possess gravity, approximately one-sixth (1/6th) of Earth’s. Understanding the peculiarities of lunar gravity is crucial for planning and executing successful lunar missions.

The reduced gravitational force necessitates even more precise control of the descent rate, as there is less natural deceleration. This puts the burden of landing on the lander’s thrusters which must fire for the right amount of time and with the right force. Failure to manage the spacecraft’s descent speed appropriately can lead to rapid and potentially dangerous descent.

Rough and rugged terrain

The Moon’s surface, bombarded for millions of years with foreign objects, poses the greatest challenge for landing due to its vast craters and loosely held regolith (soil and rocks). Different landing options are therefore chosen beforehand, including primary, alternate, and secondary contingency landing sites.

The terrain within the landing radius plays a crucial role in achieving a successful touchdown. Chandrayaan-3 is equipped with two lander hazard detection and avoidance cameras, inputs from which will be used to make the final decision on where to land. 

Crucially, while the decision-making data will be sent to mission control, the actual decision will be taken by the lander itself because of the time delay in sending inputs to the craft from Earth.

And so, this is what makes lunar landings so difficult. 

While the Moon may appear serene and peaceful in the night sky, it poses treacherous challenges in its mysterious ways. Chandrayaan-3 will have to overcome these hurdles to secure its place in the history books.

source by :India Today

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