Chandrayaan ... hail ISRO

It was half past eight on a Friday evening and I was standing in a over-crowded Delhi's infamous Blue line bus with just enough space to have both my feet firmly grounded to the floor. At the same time, India made history by successfully setting foot on the moon and planting the tricolour on the surface of the moon.

The Moon Impact Probe that was aboard Chandrayaan separated from the craft and started its descent towards the moon. 25 minutes from its separation, it crash-landed on the moon.

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) is one of the many payloads the Chandrayaan spacecraft is carrying. The MIP is a 35kg cube roughly of the size of our computer monitors. The primary objective of this probe is to demonstrate the fact that we have the expertise and technologies that are required to land a probe/craft at a predetermined time at a predetermined place on the moon, Shackleton crater in this case.

The MIP had three instruments on board:
1. Radar Altimeter – TO measure the height
2. Video Imaging system – To capture and send videos of moon during the descent
3. Mass Spectrometer – TO analyze the moon’s atmosphere during the descent.

The MIP crash-landed on the moon and within minutes the probe died. This is a precursor to what is called as a soft landing that may be required to land probes/manned missions on the moon.

The MIP was onboard the Chandrayaan spacecraft. The Chandrayaan spacecraft is indigenously built for preparing a 3 dimensional atlas of the lunar surface and conduct mineralogical and chemical studies on the moon. It is a cuboid shaped craft of side 1.5m weighing about 1.4 tonnes. It is designed to accommodate 11 payloads, 5 built by ISRO (including the MIP) and 6 other payloads from the Indian and the International scientific community. The payloads include instruments from Germany, Bulgaria and the US.

The Chandrayaan spacecraft was launched on the 22nd of October from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. After a series of intricate and tricky maneuvers that includes lowering and raising the orbits by firing many rockets at precision times and locations, the spacecraft entered the lunar orbit on the 9th of November from which orbit the MIP was launched.

The craft was launched using the indigenously built PSLV or the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has four stages – solid and liquid propulsions at alternate stages with additional strap on motors to provide extra thrust.

The success of the mission simply announces our arrival at the international stage. With this, we have joined the elite group of nations that have succeeded in sending a probe to the moon. The highlight of the whole story is the cost incurred. At about Rs.350 crores, this is one of the cheapest lunar missions and has opened the door for numerous future business opportunities.

The photograph of earth as viewed by the onboard camera of chandrayaan