The Groundbreaking Discoveries of Chandrayaan-3

Image Credit: NASA via Picryl

Mony Aramalla explores the discoveries of Chandrayaan-3

The moon has been a pipe dream for humankind and reaching it has been a feat very few space agencies have been able to do. The most recent venture into the depths of our universe has been the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3. ‘Chandrayaan’ means ‘moon craft’ in the Sanskrit language, and ISRO has been focusing on this mission for several years. However, this year, they have made a successful soft landing on the moon’s surface. Chandrayaan- 3’s launch into space took place on July 14th 2023, where it moved in an elliptical orbit around the Earth’s atmosphere until it made a soft landing on the moon’s South Pole on August 23rd 2023. 

The rest is history, and the future. 

Chandrayaan-2, the predecessor of Chandrayaan-3, had not managed to land on the moon successfully in 2019 due to several failures in the systems. ISRO chairman S. Somnath said that the five engines used to reduce the velocity had unexpectedly developed higher thrusts that caused errors in the functionality of the engines. Another drawback with the previous engines was that the spacecraft had to make unexpected sharp, fast turns, thus limiting the software’s ability to control the spacecraft. Mr. Somnath had also stated that the planned site to land on the moon was not suitable. These shortcomings had led to the subsequent development of the Chandrayaan-3. This mission had considered every possibility of failure during development and finally landed at the South Pole of the moon.

Chandrayaan-3’s successful feat comes only days after the Russian Luna-25 ultimately failed to land on the moon as it spun into an unexpected orbit, crashing on the lunar surface. The Russian Space Corporation, the Roscosmos, said that the control unit malfunctioned and it blasted for longer than necessary as the spacecraft was moving towards the moon. The rushed attempt to make a landing without properly monitoring the control systems led to the spacecraft’s penultimate crash on the lunar surface, giving Chandrayaan-3 the scientific win on the journey to the moon.

Alongside having remained undiscovered and untouched throughout the history of spacecraft, the South Pole of the moon also has a scientific importance: indeed, the area is thought to be rich in water-based ice molecules that could allow humans to stay on the moon for longer. If this mission discovers water molecules, or evidence of their existence, this water can be converted into drinking water or used as rocket fuel for future space missions.

Landing on the South Pole was no easy feat; the landscape of the lunar south pole is bumpy, covered in large craters and this makes it extremely difficult for the spacecraft to land there. Furthermore, during the Chandrayaan-3’s descent onto the surface, the lighting conditions were less than ideal. Even with advanced sensors, the dark lighting was a challenge that the Chandrayaan-3 had to overcome. 

Chandrayaan-3’s findings have been nothing less than remarkable. Their Surface Thermophysical equipment measures the temperature of the moon from the topsoil around the South pole, to understand the thermal behavior on the moon’s surface. With ten temperature sensors, ISRO can see temperature variations on the lunar surface and correlate them to the temperature variances on Earth. The temperatures recorded are way too warm for the water ice to remain stable as ice conversion to gas only needs temperatures of -160°C. 

Perhaps the greatest discoveries of Chandrayaan-3 are the various essential elements that were detected on the surface of the moon: ISRO has reported the presence of a multitude of chemicals near the south pole of the lunar surface. The high-tech laser detector has found a host of chemicals such as aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen. The most important of these is sulfur. The presence of sulfur reveals many interesting things about the composition of the moon, as it suggests the presence of volcanic activity on the moon at a point in time. Sulfur is a good fertilizer, and therefore, this discovery raises the possibility of growing plants and habitats on the moon. The potential for development is endless!

The high-tech laser detector has found a host of chemicals such as aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen. The most important of these is sulfur.

While the lunar rover Pragyan glides on the surface, it has been reported that very high seismic activity has been detected in the area. Not much is known till now about what these vibrations may indicate but this brings Chandrayaan-3 one step closer to understanding the moon’s molecular composition. 

Chandrayaan-3 mission is special for its groundbreaking discoveries, but also considering it cost ISRO $75 million to work on this project - for comparison, Avengers: Endgame cost $356 million to make. Many other space agencies, such as NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA) are known to be spending billions on their space programs. The Chandrayaan-3 mission is efficient and innovative, starting a new era of space exploration.

However, the funding to space companies and space research has often been scrutinized by the public and other organizations. The arguments made against the government spending in these ventures result from people feeling that this funding can be used for developing the resources available to them instead. However, space research is emerging as an important investment, and there are many underlying advantages of space exploration that many overlook. For instance, some inventions made for space exploration are now used every day, notably GPS tracking services, artificial limbs, scratch-resistant lenses, insulin pumps, laser eye surgeries, solar cells, and water filtration systems. 

Reaching out into space could effectively help us save the planet and, by extension, ourselves. Based on scientific developments, we know that Earth is the planet humankind can inhabit. The search for other places where survival is possible might pave a path to the life of future generations. The search for the unknown is why we find solutions that would be unimaginable to humankind without space research. Therefore, space travel is an imperative branch of research in the twenty-first century.