An unmanned Indian space probe successfully entered lunar orbit Tuesday, passing a crucial step towards a historic milestone for the country’s fledgling space program.
The arrival of the $141 million Chandrayaan-2 probe comes nearly a month after it was launched into space aboard India’s powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket. The probe will orbit the moon for two weeks before its Vikram lander — named after Vikram Sarabhai, the scientist regarded as the “father” of India’s space program — will undock from the mothership and land on the moon’s South Pole. It will then release a small rover dubbed Pragyan that will roam for 14 days, mapping the moon’s surface, conducting experiments to search for signs of water and assessing its topography and geology.
If the planned September 7 landing is successful, India will join the United States, Russia and China as the only nations to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on the moon. It will also become the first nation to attempt a controlled landing on the moon’s South Pole.
Although India was a relative latecomer to the space race, it has developed a reputation for conducting its space explorations at a fraction of the cost spent by countries like the United States. It first placed an unmanned spacecraft in lunar orbit in 2008, which helped confirm the presence of water on the lunar surface.
Among other goalposts India has set in the coming years is to put a space station in orbit, an astronaut in space by 2022, a robotic mission to Mars and a mission to explore the sun.