India plans to give landing on the moon a second try with its Chandrayaan 3 mission, which is now targeted to launch in August.
In 2019, the Chandrayaan 2 mission's Vikram lander crashed into the moon late in the landing process, although the accompanying orbiter is still at work studying the moon from a distance. Soon after the impact, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that it intended to quickly launch a successor mission to attempt the landing again.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, putting the brakes on all sorts of space missions and interfering with many of India's planned launches. Now, the agency is ready to put a new date on its return to the moon, targeting a launch in August, just over three years after its predecessor blasted off.
"This time, we will be more cautious," space minister Jitendra Singh told the Times of India (opens in new tab). "I should tell you that no country was successful in landing on the moon in the first attempt. The U.S. could land on the moon after failing three times in the 1960s." Singh revealed the new launch timeline in a Feb. 2 statement (opens in new tab).
The ISRO's caution has translated into several design changes meant to improve the odds of Chandrayaan 3's success compared to the crashed Vikram lander. For example, the new mission won't include a science-capable orbiter like the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft still orbiting the moon, ISRO chair S. Somanath told the Times of India in the same article.
"This orbiter won't be loaded with scientific instruments like the previous one," Somanath said. "Its job will only be confined to carry the lander to the moon, oversee the landing from its orbit and communicate between the lander and the Earth station."
In addition, the new lander will include only four engines; late in the design process, engineers had added a fifth engine to the Vikram lander, according to the Times of India (opens in new tab). The second-generation lander will also rely on a slightly different design for the landing legs and will include an instrument that can more accurately measure the lander's speed as it approaches the lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan 3 mission will launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Center atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket, according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab). ISRO has not yet released details about the post-launch timeline; Chandrayaan 2 reached lunar orbit 30 days after launch and attempted landing 48 days after launch.
Chandrayaan 3 is aiming for the same landing site in the moon's south polar region that Vikram targeted in 2019. If all goes well, India would become the fourth country to successfully soft-land on the moon, after the United States, Russia and China, although none of those countries has yet landed at the ice-rich south pole.