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Chandrayaan-3: What you need to know about India's mission to land on the Moon

A view of the moon as viewed by the Chandrayaan-3 lander during Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 5, 2023 in this screengrab from a video released August 6, 2023.
A view of the moon as viewed by the Chandrayaan-3 lander during Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 5, 2023 in this screengrab from a video released August 6, 2023. Copyright ISROV via Reuters
Copyright ISROV via Reuters
By Reuters
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Just days after Russia's lunar spacecraft Luna-25 crashed into its surface, an Indian mission to reach the Moon's south pole enters its critical phase.

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India's space agency is closing in on an attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon's south pole, a mission with implications for the country's standing as a space power and for future lunar exploration.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission was launched on July 14 from India's main spaceport in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Since then, it has looped through progressively wider-ranging orbits of Earth, transferred to a lunar orbit, and emerged as a focus of national pride and of global interest after Russia's failed attempt to beat it to a landing on the moon's south pole.

Here are key facts about the Indian Space Research Agency's (ISRO) Chandrayaan-3 mission.

What's Chandrayaan-3's mission?

The Chandrayaan-3 is aimed at the lunar south pole, a region with water ice, or frozen water, that could be a source of oxygen, fuel, and water for future Moon missions or a more permanent Moon colony.

If it lands successfully, the Chandrayaan-3 is expected to remain functional for two weeks, running a series of experiments including a spectrometer analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface.

The Chandrayaan-3 lander stands about 2 m tall and has a mass of just over 1,700 kg, roughly on par with an SUV. It's designed to deploy a smaller, 26 kg lunar rover.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement to Reuters that the US space agency was "looking forward" to what would be learned from the Indian mission.

What challenges does the mission face?

India's previous attempt to land on the lunar south pole failed in 2019.

Chandrayaan-2 successfully deployed an orbiter but its lander and rover were destroyed in a crash near the site where Chandrayaan-3 will attempt a touchdown.

Rough terrain is one of the complications of a south pole landing. 

ISRO scientists say they have made adjustments that make it more likely the current mission will stick its landing. That includes a system to broaden the potential landing zone. The lander has also been equipped with more fuel and sturdier legs for impact.

Russia's first moon mission in nearly 50 years failed over the weekend when its Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the Moon's surface after an uncontrolled orbit.

A private Japanese space startup, ispace, also failed an attempted lunar landing in April.

Political and economic stakes are high

A successful mission would make India only the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon, after the former USSR, the United States, and China, and mark its emergence as a space power, just ahead of national elections next year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is also looking to spur investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses.

India wants its private space companies to increase their share of the global launch market by fivefold within the next decade.

Modi said when the Moon mission launched that ISRO was writing "a new chapter in India's space odyssey" and elevating "the dreams and ambitions of every Indian".

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ISRO plans to telecast the planned landing starting from 11.50 am GMT (1.50 pm CET) on Wednesday.

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