Starting July 15, both India and the US will work out hectic lunar activities for the next five years
On July 15, India’s lunar exploratory mission — Chandrayaan-2 — will take off to eject a rover on the Moon’s southernmost region, a first for any country till now.
And the rover, named as ‘Pragyan’ (Sanskrit for wisdom), will have what the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) calls a passive experiment from the United States’ (US) Nasa.
It is a laser retroreflector array. According to Nasa, retroreflector is a sophisticated mirror that “reflects laser light signals sent from the Earth”.
This helps the scientists monitoring such missions to pinpoint the exact location of a rover, and also the exact distance from the Earth.
The US is preparing for a return to manned-mission to the moon. In 2024, American astronauts will land on the Moon.
The US astronauts will land on the same South Polar Region of the Moon. This will be the first time that humans would land on this part of the Moon to explore.
This region, however, has been explored extensively robotically. India’s Chandrayaan-2 will be the latest.
In March 2019, Nasa confirmed this during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held at The Woodlands, Texas. During discussions on lunar exploration, Nasa officials mentioned the Chandrayaan-2 carrying Nasa-owned laser retroreflector arrays.
“We are trying to populate the entire surface with as many laser reflector arrays as we can possibly get there,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, during the conference proceedings.
For Chandrayaan-2, the landing site, as informed by Isro, is a spot at 70 degrees south latitude in the South Polar Region. This is the southernmost spot for any mission till now.
The South Polar Region in the Moon is much sought after as it has huge ice reserves, raising hopes about the most fundamental element for human settlement on the natural satellite, water. India’s Chandrayaan-2 will also further explore Chandrayaan-1’s discovery of the presence of water molecules on the Moon.
The Nasa’s laser retroreflector array in Chandrayaan-2 is of crucial importance to the US’ Moon missions. Because though five such instruments are already there on the lunar surface, they have some flaws that don’t result in precision judgements required in managing a rover.
“We know the South Pole region contains ice and may be rich in other resources based on our observations from orbit, but, otherwise, it’s a completely unexplored world,” said Steven Clarke, deputy associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa Headquarters.
In the next five years, as Chandrayaan-2 continues its experiment for a year kind of timeframe, Nasa would be sending many experimental payloads to the Moon, getting crucial data for landing its astronauts.
The arrays will play a critical role in these experiments guiding on locations for further human landings.
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