ISRO plans moon rover

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T.S. Subramanian

It will be a part of second Chandrayaan mission in 2010 or 2011

CHENNAI: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) hopes to land a motorised rover on the moon in 2010 or 2011, as a part of its second Chandrayaan mission. The rover will be designed to move on wheels on the lunar surface, pick up samples of soil or rocks, do in situ chemical analysis and send the data to the mother-spacecraft Chandrayaan-II, which will be orbiting above. Chandrayaan-II will transmit the data to the ground.

ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair said: "We are trying to conceive of an experiment in which the system will land on the lunar surface, move around and pick up samples, do their chemical analysis and transmit the data back to the ground."

Chandrayaan-II will consist of the spacecraft itself and a landing platform with the moon rover. The platform with the rover will hive itself off after the spacecraft reaches its orbit above the moon, and land on lunar soil. Then the rover will roll out of the platform. M. Annadurai, Project Director, Chandrayaan-I, said: "Chandrayaan-II will carry a semi-hard or soft-landing system. A motorised rover will be released on the moon's surface from the lander. The location for the lander will be identified using Chandrayaan-I data."

The technological forerunner to the rover will be the moon impact probe (MIP) of Chandrayaan-I. The MIP is a 29-kg instrument that will detach itself from Chandrayaan-I, descend some 100 km and crash land on the moon.

The rover will weigh between 30 kg and 100 kg, depending on whether it is to do a semi-hard landing or soft landing. The rover will have an operating life-span of a month. It will run predominantly on solar power.

If ISRO wants to operate the rover for two or three months, its engineers will configure the vehicle and its instruments including a battery back-up to go into a low-power mode, with the rover waking up when sunlight streams through. When the sunlight comes, the solar-powered battery cells will be re-charged and the equipment will be switched on one by one for the rover to function for another two weeks. "The batteries will be re-charged every two weeks," said Mr. Annadurai.

Right now, the focus is on the Chandrayaan-I mission and work is under way in various ISRO units on it. A powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-XL, will put the 1,300-kg Chandrayaan-I in orbit in the first quarter of 2008.

A dish antenna with a diameter of 18 m has been installed at Byalalu village, 40 km from Bangalore, to track the spacecraft. Chandrayaan-I will carry 11 items of payload including five from ISRO and six from countries other than India.

Mr. Annadurai said: "It is a national mission with international participation and ISRO is playing the captain's role. For the first time, we are building a spacecraft with 11 instruments from different organisations. So, technologically and managerially it is a challenging job. Basically our objective is to do a systematic mapping of the mineral and chemical resources on the entire surface of the moon." The ISRO payload will take pictures of the moon terrain, survey minerals, study gravity and analyse the chemical nature of the terrain.

The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, is building the MIP. B.N. Suresh, VSSC Director, said: "The MIP sits like a hat on top of the main Chandrayaan-I module. It detaches from the spacecraft, ignites its solid motor, takes its own trajectory and we will decide where it will impact on the moon's surface."

The MIP will have three instruments. According to Mr. Annadurai, its mass spectrometer will sense the moon's atmospheric constituents as it keeps falling for 18 minutes and crashes on the moon.

Its altimeter will measure the instantaneous altitude during its descent. Its video-imaging system will look at the moon from close proximity in order that ISRO scientists may take decisions on the terrain where it will land.

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