BENGALURU (AP) — India’s space agency launched a rocket on Friday that put a spacecraft into orbit for a planned landing next month at the lunar south pole, an unprecedented feat that would boost India’s position as a major space power. .
The LVM3 launch rocket of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lifted off from the country’s main space port in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on Friday afternoon, leaving behind a column of smoke and fire.
About 16 minutes later, ISRO mission control announced that the rocket had succeeded in putting the Chandrayaan-3 lander into an Earth orbit that will send it looping toward a moon landing next month.
If the mission is successful, India would join a group of three other countries that have achieved a controlled lunar landing, including the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft would also be the first to land at the lunar south pole, an area of particular interest to space agencies and private space companies due to the presence of water ice that could support a future space station.
The rocket lifted off from India’s main spaceport at 2:35 p.m. local time (0905 GMT). More than 1.4 million people watched the launch on ISRO’s YouTube channel, many offering congratulations and the patriotic slogan «Jai Hind» (Victory for India).
India’s long-awaited moon mission Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled for launch on July 14, 2023.
ISRO’s Chandrayan-2 mission in 2020 successfully deployed an orbiter, but its lander and rover were destroyed in a crash near where Chandrayan-3 will attempt to land.
Chandrayaan, which means «lunar vehicle» in Sanskrit, includes a 2-meter (6.6-foot)-tall lander designed to deploy a rover near the moon’s south pole, where it is expected to keep operating for two weeks running a series of experiments
The moon landing is expected on August 23, ISRO said.
The launch is India’s first major mission since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced policies to stimulate investment in space launches and related satellite-based businesses.
Modi had previously said on Twitter that the lunar mission «will carry the hopes and dreams of our nation.»
“As Mother India enters the next 25 years, she is committed to playing a global leading role on the emerging world stage,” said Deputy Minister of State for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh at a spaceport event to celebrate the launch.
Since 2020, when India opened up to private launches, the number of space startups has more than doubled. Late last year, Skyroot Aerospace, whose investors include Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, launched India’s first privately built rocket.