India launches cut-price mission to land on Moon

India launches cut-price mission to land on Moon

India launched a rocket on Friday carrying an unmanned spacecraft to land on the Moon, its second attempt to do so as its cut-price space programme seeks to reach new heights.

India launches rocket to moon

The heavyweight LVM3-M4 rocket lifted off from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh carrying the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, as thousands of enthusiasts clapped and cheered.

The world's most populous nation has a comparatively low-budget aerospace programme that is rapidly closing in on the milestones set by global space powers.

Only Russia, the United States and China have previously achieved a controlled landing on the lunar surface.

But India's last attempt to do so ended in failure four years ago, when ground control lost contact moments before landing.

"Chandrayaan-3 scripts a new chapter in India's space odyssey," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently visiting France.

"It soars high, elevating the dreams and ambitions of  every Indian."

If the rest of the current mission goes to plan, the Chandrayaan-3, which means "Mooncraft" in Sanskrit, will safely touch down near the moon's little-explored south pole between August 23-24.

Developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft includes a lander named Vikram, which means "valour" in Sanskrit, and a rover named Pragyan, the Sanskrit word for wisdom.

The mission comes with a price tag of $74.6 million -- far smaller than those of other countries', and a testament to India's frugal space engineering.

Experts say India can keep costs low by copying and adapting existing space technology, and thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of their foreign counterparts' wages.

- 'A moment of glory' -

Upon touchdown, the rover will roll off Vikram and explore the nearby area, gathering images to be sent back to Earth for analysis.

The rover has a mission life of one lunar day or 14 Earth days.

"It is indeed a moment of glory for India. Thank you team ISRO for making India proud," Jitendra Singh, the junior minister for science and technology, told reporters after the launch.

ISRO chief S. Somanath has said his engineers carefully studied data from the last failed mission and tried their best to fix the glitches.

India's space programme has grown considerably in size and momentum since it first sent a probe to orbit the moon in 2008.

In 2014, it became the first Asian nation to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and three years later, the ISRO launched 104 satellites in a single mission.

The ISRO's Gaganyaan ("Skycraft") programme is slated to launch a three-day manned mission into Earth's orbit by next year.

India is also working to boost its two percent share of the global commercial space market by sending private payloads into orbit for a fraction of the cost of competitors.

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