Space officials say the landing module detached from the main spacecraft successfully Monday afternoon and is now about 100 kilometers from the moon’s surface. It is scheduled to touchdown on the moon on Saturday deploying a 27-kilogram robotic rover on the South Pole.
All eyes will now be on that landing. If it takes place successfully, India will become the fourth country in the world to make a controlled landing on the moon after the United States, Russia and China. Space officials say the maneuver is extremely complex.
“All systems of the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter and lander are healthy,” said a statement by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after the separation of the lander. Chandrayaan, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, is the name of the spacecraft carrying out the mission.
The rover will stay on the moon for 14 days examining the lunar surface for presence of water, minerals and studying its topography. The aim is to explore the south side of the moon, which no country has attempted so far.
India hopes that its second moon mission will put it in the league of major space faring nations.
It has been mounted at a time of renewed interest in earth’s nearest neighbor by space faring countries. The country’s first mission in 2008 is credited with having helped confirm evidence of water on the moon.
The current mission plans to build on that. “Chandrayaan-2 has the ability to look for water—identify the presence of water rise at depths of a few meters: an important input for sustaining a future human presence on the moon,” P Sreekumar, a senior official of ISRO, said after the launch of the moon mission nearly six weeks ago.
Space officials are also optimistic that the roughly $ 140 million moon exploration project will cement India’s reputation for conducting low cost missions at a fraction of what Western countries spend.
The moon mission is being seen as a crucial part of India’s steadily expanding space ambitions and a demonstration of the country’s technological capabilities. It has begun preparing to send a manned mission into space by 2022.