Now that the Google Lunar XPrize is history and the efforts of private groups to land on the moon delayed to some undetermined future date, it looks like that the next mission to the Lunar Surface is going to be conducted in the next several weeks by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The journal Science has a rundown on the Chandraayan-2, due to launch in March.

Mission to the south pole of the moon

The Chandraayan-2 consists of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. The orbiter would examine the lunar surface remotely, using a suite of sensors, including a water mapping instrument.

The orbiter will attempt to spy out deposits of ice thought to reside in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. Scientists believe that potentially billions of tons of ice exist on the moon, which is enough to sustain a colony and to refine into rocket fuel.

The lander, if all goes well, will touch down on a high plain located between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, at a latitude of about 70° south, close to the lunar south pole. The lander will carry a seismograph which, if a moonquake happens during the mission, will uncover a great deal of data about the moon’s interior. Another instrument will measure the moon’s plasma layer of charged ions that have been observed kicking up lunar dust.

The rover is about 25 kilograms and contains two spectrometers for the study of lunar soil as it rolls around the surface. The region where the landing will take place once consisted of molten magma billions of years ago and is geologically different from the area that was explored by the Apollo astronauts near the equator.

Implications for NASA’s return to the moon plans

With President Trump’s directive to return American astronauts to the lunar surface, the mission of Chandrayann-2 will offer invaluable information. The moon’s south pole is considered valuable territory because of the water deposits. NASA is planning its own robotic landing missions, both one that is being developed in-house and others being produced by private companies such as Moon Express and Astrobotic.

Success with the Chandrayaan-2 will catapult India to the status of significant space power. The mission will position that country to the front of the line for potential international partners for the back to the moon effort. With countries like Russia, China, and the European Union expressing interest in lunar exploration, the era of a new era not seen since the Apollo program may well be at hand, with implications that have yet to be thoroughly evaluated.