The day has come for India to try for a historic Moon landing

In late July, an Indian rocket launched the Chandrayaan-2 mission from a spaceport in the Bay of Bengal. This is the second spacecraft India has sent to the Moon and the first to attempt a soft landing. Since launching, the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft has spent the last six weeks spiraling toward lunar orbit, reaching it, and releasing a lander that will attempt to reach the surface.

India seeks to make history with its Vikram lander—until now, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon. Friday is the day for this landing attempt, which should begin around, or shortly after 3:30pm ET (19:30 UTC).

However, as an Israel-backed private company found out in April, softly landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface can be very difficult. The Beresheet vehicle’s main engine failed about 10km above the Moon, and thereafter struck the Moon at a velocity of around 130 meters per second.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission’s lander is named after Vikram Sarabhai, a prominent Indian scientist who is considered the founder of the country’s space program. The 1.47-ton lander, which has solar panels, is designed to survive for one lunar day—about two weeks on Earth—during which time it will study the lunar surface and its potential as a source for water ice.

The lander has three scientific experiments as well as a rover named Pragyan, which translates into “Wisdom” in Sanskrit. The 27-kg rover, with six wheels, should be able to traverse up to 500 meters across the Moon. It will also hope to survive for a full lunar day with on-board solar power.

From its present orbit, 35 km x 101 km, the Vikram lander will begin its descent on Friday. To safely reach the Moon, the lander has several instruments to help guide it down to the surface, including cameras to help its on-board flight computer determine its position, horizontal velocity, and avoid hazards. It also has three altimeters.

Ideally, the Indian space agency says Vikram will touch down on the lunar surface at a speed of 2 meters per second. It will target a landing site on high plain between two craters, at 70.9 degrees south, and 22.7 degrees east. The Indian space organization, ISRO, has said it will stream the landing attempt on YouTube, and we will add the video to this post when it goes live.

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