Isro is raring for another shot at the Moon. Its next mission is likely to be bigger and better, and may include bringing back samples from the Moon’s polar region.
For this mission - Lunar Polar Exploration - Isro will be tying up with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa). “Isro and Jaxa scientists are conducting a feasibility study to realise a joint satellite mission to explore the Moon’s polar region,” Isro said in a statement.
Chandrayaan-2, when it was first cleared by former PM Manmohan Singh in September 2008, was also planned to be a joint venture with Russia, whose space agency Roscosmos was to provide the lander. However, that deal fell through and Isro decided to go solo in 2012.
Jaxa’s asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second risky landing on an asteroid this July, showcasing the island nation’s technological prowess.
The joint Isro-Jaxa Moon mission is likely to be implemented in 2024, after India’s proposed human spaceflight mission in 2022.
The first thinking on a joint India-Japan Moon mission was made public in 2017, during a multi-space agencies’ meeting in Bengaluru and it was then also part of the intergovernmental discussions during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan in 2018.
While Chandrayaan-2’s landing at the south polar region on Moon would have helped plan and prepare for the joint project, sources in Isro said the mission is still “very much on the table” and Isro and Jaxa scientists will continue to work on it.
Had Vikram soft-landed successfully on Saturday, India would have become the fourth nation to have done so, a feat even Japan has not achieved. The Lunar Polar Exploration (LPE), going by initial discussions, is looking at sending a rover to Moon and its timeline will coincide with Nasa’s return to Moon in the next few years through the Artemis programme.
While Nasa is also looking at sending humans back to Moon again, the Isro-Jaxa mission will be only a robotic mission. Yet, it may set the groundwork for an eventual base at Moon, which, experts TOI spoke with say, will have to happen only through a global space co-operation.
True to these observations, LPE will come at a time when the entire world is looking at Moon with a renewed interest, with multiple projects, including landing missions and human spaceflight missions in the pipeline. India too, has quietly been working on some of the technologies that may come to use if humans eventually decide to spend some time on Moon.
M Annadurai, the man behind Chandrayaan-1 had earlier told TOI, "…There’s serious thinking to use Moon as an outpost, just like missions in Antarctica.In the long-run, the space station is likely to be scrapped, and countries including the US are seriously considering building structures more permanent on Moon and working out of there. When it happens, we want India to have contributed.