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India may go to the Moon alone

Posted on behalf of K. S. Jayaraman.

BANGALORE — The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which had planned to put a rover on the lunar surface on its second Moon mission sometime in 2015, will be doing it all by itself and not as a joint venture with Russia as was originally proposed.

India’s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched on 22 October 2008 and was able to detect water on lunar surface before onboard power supply problems caused it to end prematurely after just ten months in orbit.

For its successor, Chandrayaan-2, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, in 2007 had agreed to contribute a lander and a rover. Sripada Murty, chairman of the planetary sciences division of the ISRO’s Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, told The Hindu that Russia has backed out after its sample return mission to Mars’s moon Phobos failed in November 2011 and also due to financial problems.

PRL director Jitendra Nath Goswami, however, made it clear that Russia has not officially informed the ISRO that the joint venture is off. “We have only been told that Russia is reprioritizing its planetary exploration programme in the light of its interplanetary mission failure and that it would first thoroughly review the lander/rover system and test it in a lunar mission before offering to India.” Russia has recently announced that this test will take place in 2015.

Designing and building the lander and the rover will surely take time, admits Goswami. Moreover, the ISRO has yet to certify the rocket to be used in this mission, which is expected to make its first test flight next month after two successive failures in 2010. The vehicle must make at least two successful flights before it can be trusted for launching Chandrayaan-2, says Goswami.

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