Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

India’s ‘Moon Vehicle’: Chandrayaan-3

There is much to unpack with respect to the outstanding achievement of Chandrayaan-3’s mission for India. We reached for the stars, and, quite literally, were extremely successful at landing amongst them on August 22, 2023. Chandrayaan-3 made it to the far end of the moon (the South Pole), a place no one’s been before, on a budget smaller than those of intergalactic films produced abroad. It brings glory, gratitude and a new generation of scientific advancement, unanimously for ISRO, India and the Global Village India endorses. However, its waves of impact extend far beyond just scientific progress in the space sector.

The mission’s direct importance is two-fold: apart from the fact that it makes India the fourth nation to join the elite and very small club of countries who have made it to the moon, the lunar South Pole is a region of unparalleled importance. The shape of future moon expeditions or a substantial moon colony is highly reliant on what Chandrayan-3 finds here. The moon’s South Pole is known to have water ice– a potential source for oxygen, water and even fuel. The leap India took when it continued to have faith in the mission now allows the study of the lunar South Pole. Putting this in words of praise, said Russian President Vladimir Putin, “This is a big step forward in space exploration and of course a testament to the impressive progress made by India in the field of science and technology.” 

Now that Chandrayaan-3 has successfully completed its 14-day mission, we have learnt valuable knowledge about the moon from it. Chandrayaan-3’s lander, Vikram, tested the Moon’s ionosphere to find that it had a density of 5-30 million electrons per cubic metre. A low concentration would permit easier movement of radio waves, which is important for facilitating communication and hence a potential lunar colony. Vikram also tested the moon’s soil to find that the surface of the moon and 8 cm below the surface had a temperature difference of about 60 degrees Celsius. The temperature was also found to be warmer than what was recorded by NASA during its mission in 2009. The lander also had a seismograph to detect “moonquakes”– in fact, it even detected one lasting about 4 seconds. The robotic rover of the mission called Pragyaan covered 100 metres of the moon’s surface and has fallen asleep owing to the night time on the moon till September 22, 2023, when it will become daytime on the moon again. This is when it is expected to re-awaken. Its most important discovery was the detection of the element of Sulphur. It is possible that this element was found on the lunar surface due to asteroid impacts, though other plausible explanations exist. This data complements what was found in the Apollo missions carried out by NASA and is crucial in understanding the moon’s geochemical composition.

While one praises this mission for all it is worth to Science, one should step back to look at the bigger picture that is taking place around Chandrayaan-3. Near 2013, in the period when several delays were occurring during the launch of Chandrayaan-2, the mission’s budget was set to INR 938 crores. At this point in time, Russia had pulled out of helping India with the mission after its own space-related failures. To understand the context of India’s technological advancement at the time, this was when a majority of India’s national defence weapons were being imported, and before Tapas BH-201, when India was struggling to make its own military drone system. After the mission did not have the outcome India hoped it would, ISRO and the nation did not give up hope. Another budget of around INR 615 crore was set for Chandrayaan-3, smaller than the second mission, nevertheless a show of faith from the Government of India– and to be used by ISRO in a completely autonomous way. Chandrayaan-3 was not an overnight achievement but a test of faith that began with the approval of Chandrayaan-1 in 2003.

One can only imagine the time, effort and resilience involved which made this mission transform India in more ways than can be viewed superficially. During its journey, as the mission developed, so did our nation. With the revolutionalising of transformative policy frameworks, India opened its space sector to the private world via the Indian Space Association and today, it boasts at least 140 registered space startups.  We placed an order of nearly 2000 India-made drones just earlier this year from the many aerospace and drone startups that are of Indian origin, like ideaForge. All of these things occurred during the game-changing time of the Chandrayaan mission, whose success will now encourage more startups, and an era of our own Aerospace Tech and MIC, effortlessly syncing with the idea of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

The success of Chandrayaan-3 is in the space sector but its implications cause ripples far beyond it. It allows the focus to be on ISRO and puts India on the map, yes, but its findings, such as those of minerals like aluminium, calcium and iron alter the ground reality of telecom and other industries on earth. If the moon becomes a source of valuable minerals, there may no longer remain a race for rare earth minerals, but one that is far larger and one that can potentially provide for future generations.

Chandrayan-3 is a symbol of the Indian remix of the Renaissance. India has always been a country of knowledge seekers, and this mission will inculcate in the future generations a thirst for knowing more. This curiosity can be a segway into them taking interest in the stem sciences and in advanced research on fundamental sciences; this may very well result in India one day becoming the epicentre of data-oriented science. The pioneering fleet ISRO has achieved today is one that is for the history books and one that will give the youth of India something to aspire to.

All in all, Chandrayaan-3  definitely makes India’s mark in the space sector. But this mission is also a specimen of growth for the nation in many ways. It encourages the youth to partake in discourse around stem sciences. It boosts investments in India, in both private and public sectors. It alters the startup ecosystem in India. It allows painstaking reforms in the  Indian economy. And, inarguably so, it symbolises a moment of immense pride for every Indian as they see the nation’s flag on the moon.

(Ananya Agarwal is a student of Economics and Finance of Ashoka University interning at Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal.)