India Plans Moon Mission Sequel, Like China
India's Chandrayaan-1 is an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) mission designed to orbit the Moon over a two year period. Packed with an international suite of science instruments, the orbiter is headed for a late 2007-2008 launch. Image
Credit: Dan Roam

China's second lunar spacecraft reached the moon this week, but another Asian country has moon plans of its own: India.

Like China, India is hoping to build on the success of its first moon probe — called Chandrayaan 1 — with a robotic sequel, Chandrayaan 2. The probe is slated to launch in 2013, long after China's current Chang'e 2 moon mission ends.

China launched the Chang'e 2 probe on Oct. 1. It reached the moon Wednesday (Oct. 5).

India, meanwhile, approved plans for its Chandrayaan 2 mission in August. But unlike China's new probe, which is an orbiter, Chandrayaan 2 actually includes three vehicles: an orbiter, lander and rover, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.

Russia will provide the lander, but ISRO will build the orbiter and rover, both of which will be packed with instruments, Indian space officials have said.

Chandrayaan means "moon craft" in Sanskrit. Chandrayaan 1 launched in 2008 and shut down unexpectedly in 2009, but only after playing a key role in confirming the presence of water and water ice on the moon. [10 Coolest New Moon Discoveries]

Lots of scientific gear

The orbiter will sport five separate scientific payloads, ISRO said. These include spectrometers, radar systems and terrain-mapping cameras. This equipment will help Chandrayaan 2 address several major goals, such as determining the major elements present on the moon's surface and creating a 3-D map to help study lunar geology.

One spectrometer will also help scientists study the moon's fragile atmosphere, which is so thin that it is more properly termed an "exosphere."

The spectrometers and radar systems will also allow scientists to look for more water, both in shadowed regions such as craters and beneath the lunar surface, ISRO said. The moon is known to harbor a great deal of water ice; earlier this year, NASA announced the discovery of millions of tons of the stuff at the moon's north pole.

Chandrayaan 2's rover will have two payloads, both of them spectroscopes. Using these instruments, the rover will analyze the elemental composition of the moon's surface near its landing site.

Following in Chandrayaan 1's footsteps

India's Chandrayaan 1 probe operated until August 2009, when an abrupt malfunction cut off its communications with Earth.

Last year, Chandrayaan 1's instruments picked up convincing evidence of water on the lunar surface, helping to confirm the existence of water on the moon. The NASA instruments that recently detected water ice at the lunar north pole were aboard Chandrayaan 1.

The Chandrayaan 1 mission also unleashed an impactor probe. The probe slammed into the moon's south polar region in November 2008, making India just the fourth nation to land a craft on the moon.

The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft will weigh about 5,830 pounds (2,650 kg) at liftoff, ISRO said. The orbiter will weigh 3,080 pounds (1,400 kg) and the lander about 2,750 pounds (1,250 kg). Development of the spacecraft is currently under way at various ISRO centers throughout the country.

The mission is scheduled to launch in 2013 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, about 50 miles (80 km) north of the south Indian city of Chennai.