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India: Space ambition abounds with moon mission

India approved its third lunar mission in January 2020, the latest effort in its ambitions to become a low-cost space power.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission will have a lander and a rover, but not an orbiter, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan told reporters.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission in September 2019 successfully deployed a lunar orbiter that relays scientific data back to Earth but was unable to place a rover on the lunar surface after a hard landing.

That mission had aimed to land on the south pole of the moon, where no other lunar mission had gone before. The region is believed to contain water because craters there are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun.

ISRO had hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first detected on its mission in 2008.

Chandrayaan-3 will have a “similar configuration” as the previous mission, Sivan said. (Pictured: India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III-M1 blasts off carrying Chandrayaan-2 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India.)

Only the United States, Russia and the People’s Republic of China have landed on the moon. Beijing’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon in 2019. Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April 2019.

India’s third lunar mission will likely launch in 2020 and will cost less than its previous mission, the PTI news agency reported, citing Jitendra Singh, junior minister for the Department of Space.

Sivan also said ISRO was making “good progress” on its human space flight mission slated for late 2021, adding that four astronauts had been picked for training. The project, called Gaganyaan (sky vehicle), would cost less than 100 billion rupees (U.S. $1.4 billion), the government said in 2018.

India has developed a reputation for pioneering affordable satellite launches and space missions. Its unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost just U.S. $74 million, less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster Gravity.  Reuters

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