Retrospective: July 22, Chandrayaan-2 and India's lunar ambitions
India's outer space ambitions owe a significant debt to July 22, an important date for the history of the country's scientific and technological feats. It was on this date back in 2019 that Chandrayaan-2, India's second lunar exploration mission, was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
Chandrayaan-2 was launched with the aim of mapping the variations in lunar surface composition, as well as locating and studying the surface of the Moon for the presence of water. The mission consisted of an orbiter, a lander (Vikram), and a rover (Pragyan). Ahead of its launch, the Chandrayaan-2 mission generated significant public interest and media coverage since it came 11 long years after Chandrayaan-1, India's first ambitious lunar probe under the same programme.
Chandrayaan-2, if it were to be successful in its stated ambitions, would have made India the fourth country after the Soviet Union, the United States, and China to achieve a soft landing on the surface of the Moon and the first country to do so on the lunar dark surface. However, the lander crashed on September 6 when it deviated from its intended trajectory due to a software glitch, according to a failure analysis report submitted by Isro.
Nevertheless, the Chandrayaan-2 mission was not a complete failure. Even though the lunar lander did not arrive on the surface of the Moon as intended, the spacecraft's orbiter operations remain functional. In an official statement, Isro had said that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, with its eight scientific instruments, will continue its seven-year mission to study the surface of the Moon.
July 22 continues to hold immense significance in the history of India's cosmic feats, as the lessons learned from this operation gave a boost to a new lunar exploration mission being studied for launch this year. Chandrayaan-3, India's new proposal in partnership with Japan, does not include plans for another orbiter but is instead looking to re-attempt the landing and launch a rover on the Moon's surface. The Chandrayaan-3 mission is looking at a tentative launch timeline for the first half of 2022, according to the latest reports.