India is once again orbiting the moon.
The country's ambitious Chandrayaan-2 mission has ticked off another key milestone in its journey to land safely on the moon: It has successfully entered lunar orbit.
The orbital insertion was completed with an engine burn that began yesterday (Aug. 19) at 11:32 p.m. EDT (0332 GMT; 9:02 a.m. local time Aug. 20 in mission control). The burn lasted 1,738 seconds, nearly 29 minutes.
According to a statement from the Indian Space Research Organisation, which runs the Chandrayaan-2 mission, the procedure was successful and the mission is on track to set its lander down on the moon early next month. The spacecraft launched on July 22.
Between now and then, the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will orbit the moon for two weeks as mission control adjusts its orbit to bring the vehicle closer to the moon and orient it over the poles. Near the end of this period, the orbiter spacecraft will separate from the lander, dubbed Vikram, which is also carrying a rover called Pragyan.
Whatever happens with the perilous landing maneuver, the orbiter should remain at work around the moon for about a year. It follows a predecessor, India's first moon mission, which carried the instrument that confirmed the presence of water ice on the moon in permanently shadowed deep craters by the south pole.
It was that finding in part that inspired the Chandrayaan-2 mission to go back. If the landed component is successful, the lander and rover will spend one lunar day (two terrestrial weeks) studying the moon's south pole.
If Chandrayaan-2's landing goes smoothly, India will become the fourth nation to land softly on the moon, following the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China. An Israeli lander attempted the feat earlier this year but crashed during the final moments of the descent.
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