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India successfully launches a rocket to the Moon's shadowy far side in hunt for water

Lisa Micheal 5 Jul 22
Visitors take photos with their mobile phone of a TV screen showing the launch of Chandrayaan - 2 at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of southern Andhra Pradesh state, at the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi on July 22, 2019.

India has successfully launched a rocket carrying a spacecraft it hopes to touch down on the moon in 48 days' time.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) confirmed that its heavy lift rocket carrying Chandrayaan-2 (meaning lunar vehicle in English) took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center off the Bay of Bengal coast in South East India, at 2:43 p.m. local time.

If successful, the unmanned mission will be only the second in history to land on the far side of the moon. The first was as recently as January 2019 when the Chinese Chang'e 4 spacecraft touched down.

India is attempting to land on the moon's shadowy South Pole, where it is believed the surface may contain ice water.

The rocket is carrying an orbiter, which will detach from the rocket and carry on to the moon. A lander which will in turn eject down toward the surface of the moon and, assuming a stable landing, a rover module will exit the lander and use its 50-watts of power to meander on the surface. The rover, named Pragyan, will then look for evidence of water molecules.

The touch down on the moon is planned for September 6.

The rocket, while India's most powerful, does not have the energy to launch the orbiter on a direct path to the moon. Instead, Chandrayaan-2 will separate from the rocket and then orbit the Earth several times, widening the orbit each time until it is pulled into the Moon's gravitational pull. After circling the Moon, the un-manned lander will then be released down toward the South Pole landing spot.

The mission's lander is called Vikram, named after Vikram Sarabhai who is widely regarded as the father of the Indian space program.

The cost of the mission is quoted as 9.78 billion rupees ($141 million), according to the Times of India.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission is under the stewardship of two women. Doctor Muthaya Vanitha has been running the project to launch stage. She has now handed over the reins to Mission Director Ritu Karidhal. All of the mission is autonomous and controlled from Earth under Karidhal's supervision.

India launched its first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, in 2008 from the same Satish Dhawan Space Center. That mission saw a Moon impact probe launched from the orbiting craft which struck the lunar South Pole, placing India as the fourth country to plant a flag on the moon.

To date, the United States is the only country to have successfully conducted crewed missions to the Moon, with the last departing the lunar surface in December 1972.