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India Drops Russia from Chandrayaan-2 Lunar Mission

Chandrayaan-1 in lunar orbit. Credit: ISRO artist's concept

BANGALORE, India — Fallout from a failed Russian planetary mission in 2011 has led India to go it alone on what would be its second mission to the Moon, a senior Indian government official announced Aug. 14.

As conceived in 2008, the Chandrayaan-2 mission was to include a Russian-supplied lander along with an Indian rover and orbiter, all launched on an Indian rocket. But the failure of Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission led the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, to propose changes to Chandrayaan-2 that led India to reconsider the joint effort, according to V. Narayanaswamy, a government minister.

Phobos-Grunt, intended to return samples from the martian moon Phobos, was launched November 2011 but never made it out of Earth orbit due to a propulsion system failure. The spacecraft assembly, which also included a Chinese-built Mars orbiter, re-entered the atmosphere and was destroyed in January.  

Speaking at the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, Narayanaswamy said that in the wake of the Phobos-Grunt failure Roscosmos proposed changes designed to increase the reliability of its hardware. The revised plan necessitated an increase in the mass of the lander, which would have required the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to decrease the mass, and consequently the reliability, of its rover, he said.

Narayanaswamy said Russia’s proposed changes “called for a major programmatic re-alignment” and that this prompted ISRO to conduct a review to critically assess its own capability to design and deploy a landing craft. “The integrated review of Chandrayaan-2 recommended that India could realize the Lander module in the next few years,” he said. “Currently the spacecraft is being reconfigured for the proposed Indian Rover and Lander modules.” 

According to the minister, ISRO has already made some progress with the development of rover module and a few scientific instruments to be flown to the Moon. “Some experimental studies for the Moon Lander have also been undertaken at ISRO,” he said.

“The details of changes in the configuration and the mission profile are under finalization,” Narayanaswamy said. “The payloads on the Lander — that may possibly include a seismometer — will be finalized in due course taking into account the weight, volume and power constraints of the Lander.” 

Chandrayaan-2 is the follow-on to India’s first planetary mission, Chandrayaan-1, which successfully reached lunar orbit in late 2008 and operated for almost a year before overheating caused a premature termination of the mission, which nonetheless was declared a success. 

Chandrayaan-2 was originally scheduled to launch in 2013. A new launch date for the mission has not been announced.

 

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