India's First-Ever Moon Mission to Launch
for Lunar South Pole in March 2018
© 2018 by Linda Moulton Howe
Photo mosaic from June 3, 1996, by Clementine mission of the south
polar region of the moon. Some regions of the lunar south pole get nearly
100% sunlight which can provide unlimited solar power for human bases.
NASA/JPL-Caltech Clementine imaging mission, June 3, 1996.
February 2, 2018 Albuquerque, New Mexico - The South Pole on our moon contains areas that never have darkness in lunar southern summers. For example, there is a hill in Shackleton crater that gets sunshine non-stop, “the most illuminated place on the moon,” by some estimates. That means permanent solar energy and those all-sun places are logical sites for moon bases. Who gets there and builds first is the question. China has plans to build a base in a year or two. But exploring the South Pole first could be India's claim to fame.
By March of 2018, India's Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft plans to launch from the nation's spaceport on the Bay of Bengal aboard India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle. Their landing site is at a latitude about 70 degrees south to be closer to the moon's sunny south pole.
India space agency plans to launch in March 2018 from Sriharikota island in the Bay of Bengal.
The plan is to launch the lander from the orbiter on the back side of the moon in order to do a soft landing just after lunar sunrise on a very flat plain about 372 miles from the South Pole. From that lander will come a rover to explore the moon in that uncharted territory for the first time in human history. All NASA and other landings have been near the equator.
These are the three Indian craft that will be launched in March 2018 to land in the South Pole
region of the moon for the first ever human exploration of that territory by the rover that
will come out of the lander craft that will eject from the orbiter craft. Illustration by
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Instruments aboard the lander and rover will collect data on the moon's helium-3 isotopes, which could be fuel for fusion energy reactors in any permanent lunar bases. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will also be using cameras and a spectrometer to study how much water there is. It was India's Chandrayaan-1 that first found water molecules on the moon in 2009, when everyone thought the white rock orbiting Earth was completely dry. If more water is found, it could help build a future human base on the moon.
During its 14 Earth days of exploration, the small lander rover about the size of a briefcase will also have a seismometer in the hopes there is a moon quake which could help scientists understand more about the moon's interior. And the little rover will have two spectrometers to get data about the elemental composition of moon rocks estimated to be more than 4 billion years old. An interesting question is how will the 2018 Indian rock data compare to the older NASA Apollo rock data?
Whatever India learns in 2018 — and China maybe a year later — all space-faring nations on Earth want to take advantage of all that sunshine power at the South Pole. So stay tuned for more news about geopolitical territorial competition for South Pole land!