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Soft-landing on the Moon & the Challenges

  • Published
    23rd Aug, 2023

India is eagerly anticipating the successful soft landing of Chandrayaan-3's spacecraft on the Moon's south pole, aiming to become the first country to achieve this feat. The recent crash of Russia's Luna-25 highlights the challenges of safe lunar landings, with only a few nations, including the United States, Soviet Union, and China, having successfully soft-landed on the Moon.

What is soft landing?

  • A soft landing entails a successful landing by a spacecraft without sustaining any significant damage to itself or its payloads.
  • Whereas, in a hard landing, the probe suffers damage which may result in the failure of the mission.

The South Pole

  • The region has a difficult terrain, full of craters and deep trenches. It is also far from the equatorial region explored by previous lunar missions.
  • Some areas on the south pole are shrouded in darkness and have never received sunlight.
  • Temperatures are so cold there that they can plummet to as low as -230 degree Celsius. This rocky terrain, complete darkness and extremely cold weather make it more difficult for electronic instruments to function properly.
  • Situated on the edge of the Aitken basin, the largest impact basin on the Moon, the lunar south pole offers a unique opportunity to study materials from the Moon's deep crust and mantle. 
  • Before Russia, countries such as Japan, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have tried and failed to land on the Moon’s south pole.

Why is landing on Moon challenging?

Top of Form

  • Less gravity than Earth: The Moon has much less gravity than the Earth. Its thin and tenuous atmosphere, along with lunar dust, also makes it tough for spacecraft to land.
  • Dust: The presence of dust, even in very small quantities, can have a significant effect on temperature control and optical performance of hardware on the lunar surface.
  • Deep space communication also poses a challenge as the “large distance from the Earth and the limited on-board and radio signals are weak with heavy background noises that need to be picked up by large antennas”.
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