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ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 to hunt the trillion dollar fuel on Moon
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has announced that they will launch a lunar mission to explore that south side of the moon in October. After the Chandrayaan-1 mission, this will be their 2nd moon mission, Chandrayaan-2.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission is India’s second lunar mission and will mark the first time any country has visited the south side of the moon.
Initially, ISRO planned to partner with Russia to perform Chandrayaan-2. The two agencies signed an agreement in 2007 to launch the orbiter and lander in 2013. Russia later pulled out of the agreement. The Russian lander’s construction was delayed after the December 2011 failure of Roscosmos’ Phobos-Grunt mission to the Martian moon of Phobos, the report stated.
Russia subsequently pulled out of Chandrayaan-2 altogether, citing financial issues.
The mission includes a lander, an orbiter and a rectangular rover powered by solar energy and also nuclear energy. Data gathered by the rover will be sent to the lander, which will then transmit these back to ISRO for analysis.
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will circle the moon and provide information about its surface, ISRO stated.
The mission will also send a small, 20-kilogram (44 lbs.), a 6-wheeled Chandrayaan-2 rover will analyze the lunar crust to find traces of water and helium-3, an isotope crucial for the development of fusion energy on Earth.
Instruments on the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter
- Terrain Mapping Camera 2 (TMC-2): It will map the lunar surface in three dimensions using two onboard cameras. A predecessor instrument called TMC flew on Chandrayaan-1.
- Collimated Large Array Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS): It will map the abundance of minerals on the surface. A predecessor instrument called CIXS (sometimes written as C1XS) flew on Chandrayaan-1.
- Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM): It looks at emissions of solar X-rays.
- Chandra’s Atmospheric Composition Explorer (ChACE-2): It’s a neutral mass spectrometer. A predecessor instrument called CHACE flew on Chandrayaan-1’s Moon Impact Probe.
- Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR): which will map the surface in radio waves. Some of its design is based on Chandrayaan-1’s MiniSAR.
- Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS): It will measure the abundance of water/hydroxyl on the surface.
- Orbiter High-resolution Camera (OHRC): It will be used to examine the surface, particularly the landing site of the lander and rover.
Instruments in the Lander
- An instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA), to look for moonquakes.
- Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE), to examine the surface’s thermal properties.
- Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA-Langmuir Probe), to look at plasma density on the surface.
- The rover will carry two science instruments to look at the composition of the surface: the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).
The estimated cost of the Chandrayaan-2 mission will be ₹800 crores. So this mission will be cheaper than Hollywood’s 2014 sci-fi movie ‘Interstellar’ that cost Rs ₹1,062 crore ($165 million). In fact, ISRO’s earlier Mars Orbiter Mission (₹470 crore) launched in 2013 was also cheaper than another Hollywood space movie ‘Gravity’ (whose budget was ₹644 crore or $100 million) made in the same year.
“The mission will carry a six-wheeled Rover which will move around the landing site in the semi-autonomous mode as decided by the ground commands,” ISRO said. “The instruments on the rover will observe the lunar surface and send back data, which will be useful for analysis of the lunar soil.”
Maximum Countries worldwide are interested in utilizing Helium-3 as scientists hope that the isotope can be used in a kind of nuclear fusion that does not produce radioactive waste, something that may provide safer nuclear energy.
Nuclear fusion is a process that powers the sun. It involves smashing hydrogen atoms to produce helium and release massive amounts of energy. Once fusion energy is captured, it could serve as a source of unlimited energy on our planet.
The isotope is already produced on Earth and is currently used for detecting illicit radioactive materials. Unfortunately, helium-3 is rare and very expensive. It’sesimated value at about $5 billion per ton.
However, the moon has plenty of this isotope. Solar winds are able to bombard the Moon with a massive amount of helium-3 because it is not protected by any magnetic field. The presence of the isotope on the moon was confirmed in samples returned by the Apollo missions.
About 1 million metric tons of helium-3 is possibly embedded on the moon albeit only a quarter could be possibly brought back to Earth.
India appears to be among those in the forefront in the search and possible exploitation of helium-3 for fusion energy. China is the only country to send a rover to the moon this century and one of its mission objectives is to find helium-3 deposits on the lunar surface.