Chandrayaan-3: ISRO prevents Pragyan from falling into a crater, makes it tread different path. Photo credit: ISRO Twitter

Chandrayaan-3: ISRO prevents Pragyan from falling into a crater, makes it tread different path

The Pragyan rover of Chandrayaan-3 has embarked on a fresh trajectory following its discovery of a 4-meter diameter crater ahead in its path

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Key Takeaways

  1. The Pragyan rover of Chandrayaan-3 has embarked on a fresh trajectory following its discovery of a 4-meter diameter crater lying ahead in its path.
  2. This encounter with the crater occurred on Sunday, positioned 3 meters in advance of the rover's location at the time.
  3. In response, the rover received instructions to retrace its route. ISRO confirmed on Monday that the rover is now securely navigating along a new course.

India's Chandrayaan-3 moon mission continues making progress exploring the lunar south pole region. The mission's Pragyan rover recently had to chart a new path after coming across a sizable crater blocking its planned route. This is just the latest achievement for the ambitious lunar mission since India's space agency ISRO successfully landed the spacecraft on August 23rd.

Chandrayaan-3's rover and lander have already begun conducting scientific observations and experiments on the moon's surface. This marks India's third lunar mission and the country's first attempt at a controlled landing on the moon. While previous Chandrayaan orbiters studied the moon from above, Chandrayaan-3 allows India to analyze the lunar surface and subsurface directly.

Rover Safely Navigates Around 4-Meter Crater

On August 27th, Chandrayaan-3's Pragyan rover encountered an unexpected obstacle - a crater spanning approximately 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter positioned just 3 meters ahead. To avoid risking getting stuck or damaged in the sizable crater, controllers at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) commanded the rover to turn around and chart a new path.

Maneuvering around craters, rocks, and uneven terrain is one of the main mobility challenges for any lunar rover. Thankfully, Pragyan was able to successfully retrace its path and locate an alternate route to continue its exploration. This careful approach helps ensure the safety of the rover as it carries out its science objectives.

Rover missions must balance cautious navigation with collecting data and samples around the landing zone. The area around the lunar south pole where Chandrayaan-3 landed contains far more craters, shadows, and rugged surfaces compared to prior landing sites on the moon. But this harsh landscape is also valuable scientifically to study lunar geology and presence of water ice.

ChaSTE Payload Gathers Temperature Data on Lunar Surface

In addition to the rover's activities, Chandrayaan-3's lander module named Vikram has already begun scientific observations using its ChaSTE instrument. ChaSTE stands for Chandra's Surface Thermophysical Experiment, named after renowned Indian astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

The ChaSTE payload measures temperature gradients beneath the lunar surface. Understanding the thermal properties of the lunar regolith (soil and dust) provides insights into its composition and structure.

ChaSTE uses a specialized temperature probe equipped with 10 separate thermal sensors embedded at different depths. The probe can penetrate down to 10 centimeters into the soil due to an actuator mechanism providing hammering force.

During its first test, the payload recorded temperature variations at different subsurface levels as the probe dug into the regolith. This marked the first-ever thermal profile generated for the lunar south pole region.

Mapping subsurface temperatures at various depths informs models about heat transfer properties and geology of the local terrain. Details like layering of material and rock abundance can influence the rate of temperature changes. Longer-term monitoring by ChaSTE will reveal how temperatures fluctuate over day-night cycles.

Chandrayaan-3 Achieves Key Mission Milestones

The ISRO reported on August 27th that Chandrayaan-3 has successfully accomplished its two main technology demonstration objectives so far.

The first milestone was safely and precisely landing the spacecraft on the lunar surface on August 23rd. Previous Chandrayaan orbiters only studied the moon from above. But Chandrayaan-3 expanded India's lunar reach by proving a controlled landing.

The second objective achieved was deploying the Pragyan rover and demonstrating its mobility systems working properly. With the rover now fully functional after landing, it can fulfill its scientific goals moving across the lunar terrain.

Additionally, all the mission's scientific instruments are operating normally. These payloads will perform extensive studies of lunar geology, minerals, water ice presence, and other characteristics.

Expanding on these successes, the next phase is to complete the targeted scientific experiments using the rover, lander, and onboard instruments. Collecting data on lunar soil, rocks, interior structure, and environmental conditions will reveal secrets about the moon's south pole.

Rover Explores "Shiv Shakti" Landing Site

A video shared by ISRO on August 27th provides views of Pragyan rover moving across the landing site region dubbed "Shiv Shakti Crater." The name translates to "the power of Shiva" in reference to a Hindu god.

The footage shows the 6-wheeled rover traversing sandy and rocky terrain, even rolling over small rocks along the way. The rover's designed for highly reliable mobility over uneven features found on lunar surfaces.

Pragyan can transmit data and images back to Earth through the lander while operating close by. Its solar-powered systems allow probing the shadowy polar regions that see less sunlight. Onboard cameras scan the environment to avoid hazards when beyond line-of-sight from Vikram.

Over its 1 lunar day expedition (14 Earth days), Pragyan will analyze rocks, soil, and surface features around the landing site. Special instruments can study lunar mineralogy and elemental composition, all important for understanding the moon's makeup.

Next Steps for Chandrayaan-3 Mission

Now that the landing and rover deployment stages are complete, Chandrayaan-3 has a busy schedule ahead investigating the lunar south pole.

The orbiter module will continue circling and mapping the moon from above with its advanced cameras and spectrometers. Gathering detailed imagery and mineral data from lunar orbit provides helpful context for the surface mission findings.

Down on the surface, the lander's science instruments including cameras, spectrometers, and the seismic experiment will keep observing the landing site vicinity. The lander provides a stable platform to study the environment, while the rover does more mobile reconnaissance.

The rover has a target lifespan of 5 Earth days as it travels out 500 meters from Vikram performing science experiments. But Pragyan will likely keep functioning if it survives the brutally cold lunar nights.

Chandrayaan-3 demonstrates India's resolve to become an elite spacefaring nation. Implementation challenges caused setbacks since the approved mission in 2018, including launch delays and lessons from the previous crash landing. But ISRO's perseverance led to the remarkable success so far, with lots of groundbreaking science still ahead.

This lunar mission advances India's technological capabilities and furthers understanding of the solar system. The spacecraft and science data contribute to preparing for future interplanetary human spaceflight as well. Chandrayaan-3 symbolizes India's ambitious space program built on scientific prowess.

IndiaChandrayaan-3Chandrayaan-3 Engine BurnPragyan RoverPragyanShiv Shakti PointIndia Moon LandingMoon Landing by ISROMoon RaceISROIndian Space ProgramIndian Space Research Organization

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