An unmanned spacecraft India launched last month has begun orbiting the Moon before it lands on the far side to search for water.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said it has manoeuvred Chandrayaan – the Sanskrit word for “moon craft” – into lunar orbit.
Chandrayaan will continue circling the Moon in a tighter orbit until reaching a distance of about 62 miles from the surface.
The lander will then separate from the orbiter and use rocket fuel to brake as it attempts to land in the south polar region of the Moon on September 7.
A rover will search for water deposits which were confirmed by a previous Indian Moon mission.
Scientists have said the water and mineral deposits could make the moon a good refuelling station for further space travel.
The mission is led by two female scientists.
The success rate of landing on the Moon is only 37%, ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan said in a news conference.
Dr Sivan said that when the semi-autonomous lander uses artificial intelligence to land on its own, after matching the landing spot with pre-loaded images of the region, “it’ll be a mix of feeling, of happiness and tension and more anxiety,” likening it to a “bridegroom separated from the parents’ house”.
A rover will study permanently shadowed Moon craters that are thought to contain 100 million tonnes of water, deposits that were confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.
Dr Sivan said Nasa’s Artemis mission will use the data from Chandrayaan-2 to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024, preparing the way for human missions to Mars.
Dr Sivan said:
“The globe is waiting for our data.”
“We are going to land at a place for the first time on the south pole and NASA has already announced the project of a having human habitat type of thing on the south pole. So this will be giving input on a program which is concerning humanity in a major way.”
Dr Sivan has said that the $140m (€126m) Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation’s most prestigious to date, in part because of the technical complexities of landing on the lunar surface — an event he described as “15 terrifying minutes”.
No landing has ever been attempted in the south polar region before. If the Indian team does manage the landing, it would be only the fourth country to do so after the US, Russia and China.