November 9, 2008

India Celebrates Arrival of First Lunar Satellite

India celebrated the success of its first satellite to escape Earth's gravitational field and reach the Moon on Saturday. 

A 13-minute engine burn slowed the Chandrayaan 1 probe enough for it to be captured by the Moon's gravitational forces. 

The craft, launched from Earth on 22 October, is now in an 11-hour polar ellipse that comes as close as 504km from the Moon and extends as far as 7,502km out. 

Additional brakings will bring the satellite to a near-circular, 100km orbit from where it can start its two-year mission to compile a 3D atlas of the Moon's surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) probe, which is powered by a single solar panel that generates roughly 700 Watts of power, contains five Indian-built instruments and six made in other countries, including the U.S., Britain and Germany.

The mission will include other experiments beyond the mapping project, such as releasing a 30kg Moon Impact Probe (MIP) from the main craft that will slam into the Moon's surface. 

The probe will record video footage on the way down, measure the composition of the Moon's fragile atmosphere and will drop the Indian flag on the lunar surface.