Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft arrives at India’s spaceport in preparation for July launch

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Named as Chandrayaan-3 (Sanskrit for Moon Vehicle-3), this will be India’s third lunar mission and will attempt both controlled soft-landing on the lunar surface and in-situ analysis by the means of a rover.

In the evening hours on Friday, the slow-moving, specialised truck ferrying the spacecraft from UR Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru arrived at India’s spaceport, under a security blanket.

The UR Rao Satellite Centre is where India’s satellites and interplanetary probes are designed, developed and tested.

They are then trucked to the spaceport, where final integration and testing, filling of fuels are carried out, prior to launch.

Owing to the sensitive electronics and space-grade components on-board, the satellite is always placed in a clean room and transported in such conditions. A clean room is a specialised facility where the pressure, temperature and humidity are kept constant regardless of the weather outside. Clean rooms also have negligible amounts of dust particles per cubic metre of air.

Meanwhile, fast-paced activity is underway at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre to assemble and ready India’s heaviest rocket LVM3 (earlier known as Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3), which is meant to loft the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft into an orbit around the earth, from where it will begin its weeks-long journey to the moon.

Chandrayaan-3 will be the sixth orbital flight of this rocket, which has so far delivered successes in all its missions (including two commercial missions).

In March this year, ISRO had announced that the Chandrayaan-3 integrated spacecraft, comprising the propulsion module, lander and rover, underwent tests to check whether it can handle the excess amounts of noise and vibration that are generated at the time of the rocket’s launch and flight.

For context, the sound emanating from the launch of the LVM3 rocket(which is meant to launch Chandrayaan-3) can be heard at least within an eight-kilometer radius around the launchpad.

Nestled securely in the nosecone (payload fairing) of the rocket, the spacecraft would have to operate normally even after being exposed to such noise and vibration at launch.

Though the payload fairing is adequately protected to shield the spacecraft from the harsh launch environment, it is essential to test and ensure the survivability of the spacecraft.

These tests were particularly challenging, considering the fact that the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is a composite of three modules: Propulsion Module, Lander Module and the Rover module,” ISRO had said in March. The vibration and acoustic tests carried out on the integrated spacecraft have provided sufficient confidence in the structural integrity and survivability in the launch environment, the Indian Space agency had added.

Earlier this year, speaking at the Indian Science Congress, Dr. S. Somanath, Chairman ISRO and Secretary, Department of Space, had said that the mission goals of Chandrayaan-3 are the same as that of its predecessor Chandrayaan-2 which was launched in 2019. He had said that the primary objective is to carry out a safe Lunar landing and ensure that the on-board rover can exit the lander and traverse on the Lunar surface.

In 2019, the Chandrayaan-2 mission could not make a controlled Lunar landing (it had crash landed). Following this, ISRO took multiple measures to ensure that the third Lunar mission could accomplish what its predecessor couldn’t. These measures include software changes, changes in the propulsion system, new sensors, ruggedisation to handle unexpected situations and failures.

Notably, the Chandrayaan-3 mission will only be carrying a Lunar lander, rover and propulsion module, unlike its predecessor which carried an orbiter, lander and rover. According to ISRO, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is functional and continues to perform its imaging and remote sensing role from an altitude of 100kms above Lunar surface.

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