Indian moon orbiter releases Vikram lander

Last month the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully put its Chandrayaan-2 orbiter into orbit around the moon. The two halves of the orbiter have now separated in preparation for the Vikram lander portion of the spacecraft touching down on the surface of the Moon. The separation of the two portions of the spacecraft happened yesterday.

The orbiter will continue to circle the moon's poles for about a year, and the lander will attempt to touchdown on the surface of the moon later this week. The ISRO says that all systems on the orbiter and lander are healthy right now. The separation of the two portions of the spacecraft happened at around 3:45 a.m. EDT on September 2.

Both spacecraft are said to be doing well in their separate orbits. The Chandrayaan-2 mission launched in July and arrived in orbit on August 20. Mission controllers have conducted several maneuvers to get the spacecraft on track for its south-pole-oriented mission.

The spacecraft has eight different science instruments onboard including two cameras. The cameras are to identify the different elements in the regolith on the surface of the moon. The cameras will also be used to calculate the amount of water ice inside the moon.

Another instrument on the spacecraft will measure the X-rays emitted by the sun. Over the next several days the lander portion of the spacecraft will orbit the moon and fine-tune its orbit before landing. The landing is expected to happen on September 6 at about 4:25 p.m. EDT. Vikram carries a rover called Pragyan that weighs about 60 pounds. That rover will roll onto the surface of the Moon about four hours after landing. If successful, India will become the fourth nation to land on the moon.