ISRO might put an Indian rover, Chandrayaan-3, on the Moon before the NASA lunar exploration rover VIPER. ISRO to launch Chandrayaan-3 in August 2022. The mission will put an Indian rover on the Moon for the first time and that too before the NASA rover VIPER

India is gearing up to pull off the Chandrayaan-3 mission in August 2022, according to Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Department of Atomic Energy. Earlier the government had stated that the mission would take place some time in 2022, but this is the first time we have heard of a more concrete deadline. The timeline is also exciting considering NASA has been planning a lunar exploration mission to explore the south pole region of the Moon. NASA’s VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is expected to land on the Moon in 2023. That means Chandrayaan-3 can effectively beat NASA in the latest race to the Moon. However, it should be noted that both the missions have completely different objectives although both are aiming for the Moon’s south pole region. Also while this will be India’s first time landing a rover on the Moon, NASA has already done it multiple times in the past.

Chandrayaan-3 comes after the ambitious Chandrayaan-2 mission back in July 2019 that eventually failed to execute a proper landing for the Pragyaan rover. Chandrayaan-2 used the most advanced GSLV-Mk 3 geosynchronous launch vehicle but the mission failed after Vikram lander crashed onto the lunar surface on September 7, 2019. However, the follow up mission may finally put a rover on the Moon and still win the space race against NASA.

NASA Vs ISRO: Race To Lunar South Pole

Chandrayaan-3 was originally scheduled for a much earlier launch, which was delayed due to the pandemic but this has also given ISRO the time to better prepare for the mission. Responding to a query, Singh said, “Based on the learnings from Chandrayaan-2 and suggestions made by the national level experts, the realisation of Chandrayaan-3 is in progress. Many related hardware and their special tests are successfully completed. The launch is scheduled for August 2022”.

In comparison, NASA is planning to deliver VIPER to the Moon by November 2023, which gives the Indian rover a significant head start. It might be crucial as well given the fact that both Chandrayaan-3 and VIPER are targeting the south pole region of the Moon and will possibly be exploring the region for any sign of water, which can be a huge discovery.

VIPER is part of NASA’s Ames Research Centre. The mission is based on a previous NASA rover concept called Resource Prospector, which was cancelled in 2018. The rover will be given the task of looking for lunar resources in permanently shadowed areas in the lunar south pole region, specifically by mapping the distribution and concentration of water ice.