India’s space agency Isro has brought back part of the rocket from its recent Moon mission back to Earth’s orbit successfully.
The “propulsion module” separated from the Vikram lander after taking it near the Moon. The Vikram lander then landed on the Moon on 23 August.
After doing many complicated moves, the module came back into Earth’s orbit.
The experiment is important for Isro’s future plans to send people into space.
Isro said that the module will keep watching Earth from its new position.
When Chandrayaan-3’s spacecraft, with the Pragyaan rover inside, landed on the moon’s south pole, India became the first country to do so. It also became one of the few countries to land softly on the Moon, following the US, the former Soviet Union, and China.
The lander and rover worked for two weeks collecting information and pictures. After that, they were turned off at night on the moon.
The propulsion module kept circling the Moon and looked at Earth with a special instrument called Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE). It sent information back to Isro.
The space agency says that after being in the moon’s orbit for a month, the propulsion module still had more than 100kg of fuel left. They decided to use it to do special experiments that will give more information for future moon missions.
“When the spacecraft broke away from the engine part, it was flying very close to the Moon,” explained Mila Mitra, a ex-Nasa scientist and co-founder of Stem and Space, a space education company in Delhi. The module started its complex journey on 9 October by first raising its orbit from 150km to 5,112km.
Isro said that the module went around the Moon many times before leaving its area of control on November 10th. Since November 22nd, it has been orbiting Earth.
The space agency says the module is staying very high up, at over 115,000km. This is much higher than where geostationary satellites are. They’re doing this to make sure it doesn’t crash into anything. Its cargo – SHAPE – is still working, looking at Earth and sending information for study.
In September, Isro announced that the Vikram lander had successfully completed a “hop experiment”. The agency announced that the lander was told to start its engines, it went up 16 inches and landed about 30-40cm away. This means the spacecraft could be used to bring back samples or for human missions in the future.
MsMitra says that the new experiment brings Isro closer to a return mission. “The experiment is important because it has the potential to bring back astronauts and space samples, and also for future missions to other planets. ”
Also, when the module runs out of fuel, it would have fallen onto the moon and stayed there as debris forever. Isro has also fixed this important issue by bringing it back.