Revolutionary India Chandrayaan-2 Mission Will Explore Moon's Untouched South Pole
Despite being the seventh-largest economy in the world and having 1 billion people enrolled in its national biometric database, India hasn't been a major player when it comes to the recent space race—in fact, its initial investment in space exploration has been relatively "frugal." That's beginning to change, however—India has recently announced that its newest space mission, Chandrayaan-2, will launch a lunar orbiter and rover that will do what no other rover project has done before: land a rover near the moon's south pole.
The mission is the follow-up to the 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission, which discovered evidence of water in one of the moon's craters. Chandrayaan-1 consisted of an orbiter and a moon impact probe, with the latter crashing into the moon's south pole as a test case to prepare for future soft landings. Now, all that preparation is paying off.
Chandrayaan-2 (Sanskrit for "Moon Vehicle 2") will orbit around the moon taking pictures, then drop a semi-autonomous rover to trundle around the south pole, collecting information on "lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, lunar exosphere and signatures of hydroxyl and water-ice." The rover will also be looking out for helium-3, a potential fuel source for lunar colonists.
India planning to land in pole position on Moon.- Syed Akbaruddin (@AkbaruddinIndia) February 5, 2018
In ambitious effort @isro plans to land Chandrayaan-2 Mission near Moon's South Pole & release a rover to probe this never explored area.https://t.co/Y4o0xikSwr pic.twitter.com/l3bzyBtHyf
There's one big issue with the mission, however: the reason most lunar rovers touch down near the moon's equator, rather than the poles, is because the poles receive less sunlight, which is critical for solar-powered rovers. Chandrayaan-2's rover is only scheduled to run for one lunar day (or 14 Earth days) before it enters sleep mode to wait until it can recharge its solar-powered batteries.
Still, the choice of a polar landing site means Chandrayaan-2 will be exploring parts of the moon that have never been seen up close. If Curiosity's recent panoramic photo of the surface of Mars is any indication, we can expect to see more breathtaking extraterrestrial landscapes when the rover touches down sometime this April.