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India's Chandrayaan-3 launches to explore moon's water-rich south pole

India has successfully launched its latest mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-3. The spacecraft is designed to explore the south pole of the moon, which has water reserves that could help make a permanent lunar base possible.

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-3, which takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “mooncraft”, took off onboard a Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh at 2:35pm, local time, on 14 July.

The preceding Chandrayaan-2 mission ended in failure in 2019 when a software glitch caused the lander to crash into the surface of the moon. The Vikram lander carried on that mission was meant to deploy a six-wheeled rover named Pragyan that would have explored the moon’s south pole, but both were destroyed on impact.

The earlier Chandrayaan-1 mission consisted of a lunar orbiter and a probe designed to deliberately hit the moon at speed, again targeting the south pole. That mission was a success and made India the fourth nation on Earth to leave its flag on the moon.

To date, only the US, the USSR and China have successfully landed lunar missions intact. A private attempt by a Japanese start-up in April ended unsuccessfully when it, too, crashed into the surface at speed.

Read more:

Return to the moon: Why are we restarting human lunar exploration now?

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Chandrayaan-3 will be a repeat of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, but this time there will be no orbiter, with the lander and contained rover instead handling their own communications with Earth without the need for an intermediary satellite. The mission will arrive at the moon on 23 or 24 August, according to officials. The lander will then detach and drop out of orbit towards the moon’s surface. Once released, the rover is expected to last just two weeks in the harsh lunar environment.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, said on Twitter: “4th July 2023 will always be etched in golden letters as far as India’s space sector is concerned… This remarkable mission will carry the hopes and dreams of our nation.”

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