'India, I reached my destination’: Chandrayaan-3 says after moon landing - the tech that made it all possible
After one failed mission and four years of waiting, India has finally landed on the Moon successfully with the Chandrayaan-3 mission. Know the tech that made it all possible.
It took India about four years, and one heartbreak to launch the Chandrayaan-3 mission on July 14, 2023. It was not easy after the Chandrayaan-2 Landing Module crashed onto the lunar surface in the very final stages. Perhaps, the fears were even higher this time around after Russia's Luna-25 mission met a similar fate just days ago. But the Indian spacecraft continued against all odds and succeeded. The country is now the 4th nation in the world to land on the lunar surface, and the first country in the world to reach the South Pole of the Moon. But none of it would have been possible without the shrewd tech upgrades made by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
The emotional release was quite evident as can be gauged from ISRO's latest tweet that said, “India, I reached my destination and you too! Chandrayaan-3 has successfully soft-landed on the moon”. Just four years ago, in 2019, we saw the same space agency make the heart-breaking announcement that it failed to reach the Moon. Back then, no one thought India could make a comeback in such a short duration and put itself on the lunar surface.
Lessons learned from Chandrayaan-2
To understand the tech upgrades, we first have to revisit what went wrong with the Chandrayaan-2 mission. The first Moon landing mission started on a great note, but the problem arrived in the last phase of the mission when the lander and the rover were supposed to reach the lunar surface. On September 6, 2019, the lander deviated from its trajectory. According to reports, it was said to be a software glitch that increased the thrust on five of the propulsion modules on the lander and caused the crash.
While on the surface the problem was limited to controlling the propulsion system, in reality, it was a range of different things from loss of communication, no failsafe mechanism for propulsion engines, selection of an extremely small zone to land, and more.
The tech upgrades that landed Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon
Ahead of the launch date of Chandryaan-3, ISRO chief S Somnath said in a press conference, “Instead of a success-based design in Chandrayaan-2, we are doing a failure-based design in Chandrayaan-3 —we are looking at what can go wrong and how to deal with it”.
And it did exactly that. More fuel was added to the lander this time. This was likely to help it stay afloat longer and find alternative landing spots if need be. Additionally, the lander was enabled to abandon the landing attempt if something went wrong and try again after stabilizing its thrusters. The efficiency of the thrusters was also improved so even if a couple of them misfired, the rest could still stabilize and complete the landing. Further, the number of thrusters was reduced from five to four.
This time ISRO also chose a larger landing spot of 4 km x 2.4 km area, instead of a 500 sq meters area like the last time. The larger area was picked to give the Chandrayaan-3 team more leeway in planning the landing.
Finally, additional solar panels were also added to the Landing Module's structure, and its legs were made stronger to absorb the impact on landing.
The ISRO chief was so confident of the upgrades that he said ahead of the landing, “If all sensors fail, if everything fails it will still make a landing provided the propulsion system works well. This is how it has been designed. Even if two of the engines do not work this time the lander will be able to land. It has been designed in such a way that it should be able to handle multiple failures. If the algorithms work well we should be able to do a vertical landing”.
The role of AI in Chandrayaan-3 landing
This time, ISRO also leveraged the help of artificial intelligence in the final phase of the descent, which was called the Autonomous Landing Sequence (ALS). During this phase, the spacecraft left the pre-landing orbit of the Moon and began moving towards the surface, adjusting its orientation, direction, and velocity — all of it was done by AI. During this entire phase, which took 17 minutes, the AI carefully made altitude adjustments, fired thrusters, and scanned the surface for any obstacles.
Now, that the Lander has reached the surface of the Moon, Pragyan rover will begin exploring the surface and collect data from the atmosphere. The Vikram lander will collect data from the crust and the mantle.