Despite its inability to return to Earth, Chandrayaan-3 is considered a successful mission. Now, ISRO is hinting at another significant step forward in space exploration: the Chandrayaan-4 mission. Unlike its predecessors, experts anticipate that Chandrayaan-4 will bring back lunar samples to Earth.
Nilesh Desai, Director of the Space Applications Centre (SAC/ISRO), mentioned the Chandrayaan-4 mission as a major advancement during a recent address to the Indian Tropical Meteorology Institute. The mission is expected to involve collecting samples from the lunar surface.
The spacecraft will travel to the moon, land, collect samples, and then connect to another module in space. When the two modules approach Earth, they will split into two parts: one part will return to Earth, while the other will orbit Earth.
Desai stated, “It’s a very ambitious mission, and hopefully, in the next five to seven years, we will meet the challenge of bringing samples from the moon.”
Chandrayaan-4 is expected to be more complex than its predecessor. Firstly, in terms of weight, the Chandrayaan-3 rover was only 30kg, while Chandrayaan-4 plans to land a massive 350kg rover on the moon. Secondly, the mission aims to perform a challenging landing on the moon’s rim, an unexplored region. The rover will also explore a much larger area, 1000m x 1000m, compared to Chandrayaan-3’s 500m x 500m.
The mission’s success will be determined by its ability to return lunar samples to Earth. This challenging process requires two powerful rockets for the returning cargo carrying lunar samples.
However, confirmation from the space agency regarding the mission’s viability is still pending. Currently, ISRO is collaborating with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, on a lunar mission called “LuPEX,” which aims to explore the moon’s darker side. This mission, weighing 350kg, will explore areas up to 90 degrees on the lunar surface.
The mission aims to collect samples from the lunar south polar region, known for its potential water ice reserves, and return them to Earth. The mission involves sending four modules to the moon across two launches, with the first step being to land a module to collect samples near the Chandrayaan-3 landing site. The remaining modules would be sent later and would facilitate the transfer of collected samples back to Earth.
ISRO faced communication challenges with the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s Vikram lander and Pragyan rover, prompting a shift of resources towards the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX), a collaborative effort with JAXA. Progress includes JAXA’s review, working group visits, and adjustments to the payload lineup. LUPEX’s mission reflects a dedicated effort to advance lunar exploration, highlighting its collaborative and pioneering nature.