Building on the recent success of its first-ever Moon landing, India aims to next collect samples from the lunar south pole region and return them to Earth.
Early reports suggest that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the country’s space agency, is planning a lunar sample return mission known as Chandrayaan-4, which will send a total of four modules to the moon on two launches.
The first step in this complex undertaking would be to transport a lander and an “ascender” to the surface of the Moon to collect samples. This would likely occur near the now-dormant plane’s landing site. Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft near the lunar south pole, a region of great international interest thanks to its apparent abundance of water icewhich scientists believe can be harnessed for life support and rocket fuel.
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The two remaining pieces of the Chandrayaan-4 mission – a transfer module and a re-entry module – would later fly on top of a second rocket but remain parked in lunar orbit, according to media reports.
Although the specific plan for the mission is not yet clear, it appears that the lander and ascender would land on the rim of an unspecified crater near the South Pole. Then, the ascending module carrying the collected samples would be launched from the moon’s surface and transfer its samples to the re-entry module. The transfer and re-entry modules would then return to Earth, transporting the samples here for a safe landing.
“This is a very ambitious mission,” Nilesh Desai, director of the Space Application Center in Ahmedabad, which was part of the historic Chandrayaan-3 mission, said on Friday (November 17). The Indian Express. “I hope that in the next five to seven years we will be able to meet this challenge.”
India’s proposed multi-stage mission concept to return moon samples to Earth is somewhat similar to an ongoing NASA effort to bring home martian samples. The NASA project — a joint effort with the European Space Agency — aims to launch samples collected by the Perseverance rover using a rocket-powered spacecraft and dock it with an orbiter returning to Earth that would rotate in a circle March.
The Red Planet campaign, currently targeted at the 2030 period, is face scrutiny for its exorbitant costs and unresolved architecture. ISRO is yet to announce the estimated budget of the Chandrayaan-4 mission.
The announcement itself, however, is not a complete surprise, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated. said previously that “India should now aim for new and ambitious goals”. As part of the effort, Modi has asked a government department that manages the country’s space program to develop a roadmap for the country’s lunar exploration, including a series of additional Chandrayaan robotic missions.