The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will attempt a soft landing on the Moon once more with the Chandrayaan-3 mission, which will launch from Sriharikota at 2.30 PM on July 14. Despite the fact that humans first set foot on the Moon more than 50 years ago, the endeavour remains challenging.

When the Vikram lander crashed into the Moon’s surface in September 2019, the Chandrayaan-2 mission was declared a failure. The Israeli-led Beresheet mission had met a similar fate earlier that year. Many years later, in April of this year, the Japanese Hakuto-R mission similarly failed to perform a soft landing on the Moon.

These are just a few of the many failed missions that aimed to land on the Moon. In the 1960s, during the space race, the United States and the Soviet Union crashed spacecraft after spacecraft till they finally succeeded landing one. China is the only other country that completed a soft landing on the Moon and it did that on its first try with the Chang’e-5 mission in 2013.

Reaching the Moon

Before you can even consider landing on the Moon, you must first find out how to get there. The Moon is around 3,84,400 miles distant from our planet on average, however this distance can be significantly more depending on the course taken by the spaceship. Failure can happen at any point during this long, long road.

This is true even for missions that simply wish to travel to the Moon without landing. NASA had to cancel the Lunar Flashlight project because the spacecraft’s propulsion system failed, preventing it from entering lunar orbit.

Slowing down on the Moon

Spacecraft returning back to our planet, like NASA’s Orion after the Artemis 1 mission, can rely on the Earth’s thick atmosphere providing enough friction to slow down before touching down safely. But spacecraft entering the Moon do not have that luxury because of its extremely thin atmosphere.

Spacecraft returning back to our planet, like NASA’s Orion after the Artemis 1 mission, can rely on the Earth’s thick atmosphere providing enough friction to slow down before touching down safely. But spacecraft entering the Moon do not have that luxury because of its extremely thin atmosphere.

On the Moon Navigation

There is, of course, no GPS on the Moon. Spacecraft cannot rely on a network of satellites to accurately land at a certain spot on the Moon since such a network does not exist. This implies that onboard computers will have to perform quick calculations and judgements in order for the spacecraft to land precisely on the Moon.

According to a paper published in the journal Nature, this becomes increasingly challenging when a spaceship approaches the critical last few km. At that moment, the computers on board will have to respond independently to last-minute concerns. The vast volumes of dust produced up by the propulsion systems, for example, could confound sensors.

 

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