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India to launch lunar mission that would be first to explore moon's south pole region

If the mission succeeds, India will become the fourth nation to land a craft on the lunar surface.
Image: Chandrayaan-1
The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, India's first moon mission, is seen from behind glass at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) center in Bangalore on Sept. 18, 2008.Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP/Getty Images file

India is planning to send a spacecraft to the moon this summer, with a robotic lander and rover scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface in early September.

If it’s successful, the Chandrayaan-2 mission will make India the fourth nation to land a craft on the moon. So far, only the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have pulled off the feat.

The mission will launch sometime between July 9 and July 16, when a rocket carrying the lander, rover and an orbiter lifts off from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launch facility on Sriharikota, a barrier island off India’s southeastern coast. The lander and rover are scheduled to touch down near the lunar south pole Sept. 6, becoming the first craft ever to land in that region.

“We are ready for one of the most exciting missions,” the space agency tweeted May 1.

The rover will operate on the moon for 14 days and drive an estimated 1,300 feet, the agency’s chairperson, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, told The Times of India. He said three scientific instruments aboard the rover would analyze “the content of the lunar surface and send data and images back to Earth through the orbiter.”

The mission will launch three months after Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft crashed onto the lunar surface during an attempt to become the first privately funded craft to land on the moon. Mission controllers lost contact with the probe after it suffered an engine malfunction during its descent to the lunar surface April 11.

India’s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched in October 2008 and placed an orbiter in lunar orbit that operated until August 2009. The orbiter circled the moon about 3,400 times, helping confirm the discovery of water ice on the moon’s surface.

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