India has called off the launch of a moon mission to explore the lunar south pole.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was aborted less than an hour before takeoff on Monday. Indian Space Research Organization spokesman B.R. Guruprasad says a “technical snag” was observed in the 640-ton launch-vehicle system.
The countdown abruptly stopped at T-56 minutes, 24 seconds, and Guruprasad said that the agency would announce a revised launch date soon.
The agency says a new launch date would be announced.
Chandrayaan, the word for “moon craft” in Sanskrit, is designed for a soft landing on the far side of the moon and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to show off the country’s security and technology prowess. If India did manage the soft landing, it would be only the fourth to do so after the US, Russia and China.
Dr. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said at a news conference last week that the around $140-million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation’s “most prestigious” to date, in part due to the technical complexities of soft landing on the lunar surface - an event he described as “15 terrifying minutes.”
Practically since its inception in 1962, India’s space program has been criticized as inappropriate for an overpopulated, developing nation.
But decades of space research have allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping solve everyday problems at home, from forecasting fish migration to predicting storms and floods.
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this month, the world’s biggest space agencies are returning their gaze to the moon, seen as ideal testing grounds for technologies required for deep space exploration, and, with the confirmed discovery of water, as a possible pit stop along the way.
“The moon is sort of our backyard for training to go to Mars,” said Adam Steltzner, Nasa’s chief engineer responsible for its 2020 mission to Mars.
Because of repeated delays, India missed the chance to achieve the first soft landing near the lunar south pole. China’s Chang’e 4 mission landed a lander and rover there last January.
India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. ISRO wants its new mission’s rover to further probe the far side of the moon, where scientists believe a basin contains water-ice that could help humans do more than plant flags on future manned missions.
The US is working to send a manned spacecraft to the moon’s south pole by 2024.
Modi has set a deadline of 2022 for India’s first manned spaceflight.