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Exploring the Moon’s South Pole: Chandrayaan-3’s Physics Feat

Team StoryWeavers|September 15, 2023, 18:40 IST|

Chandrayaan-3 undoubtedly brought the moon closer to us. Chandrayaan-3 was a follow-up mission to Chandrayaan-2 that faced a technical glitch while landing. So, the main goal of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) for this mission was to land gently and securely on the south pole of the moon. The mission was carried out by the Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3) at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota. Chandrayaan-3’s success is a major milestone for India’s space programme, making India the first country to land on the south pole of the moon.

Indian Space Research Organisation (GODL-India), GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons

Physics behind Chandrayaan-3’s South Pole landing

Chandrayaan-3 employed many physics concepts to soft-land successfully on the south pole of the moon. Here are the three most important physics concepts driving Chandrayaan-3. 

Orbital Mechanics

Orbital mechanics help to calculate the trajectories and understand the motion of planets. Johannes Kepler worked on Newton’s laws and created Kepler’s law, which is used in orbital mechanics today. Understanding orbital mechanics is critical when it comes to space travel and exploration. 

On 5 August 2023, Chandrayaan-3 utilised the concept of orbital mechanics to enter the lunar orbit. This was accomplished after Chandrayaan-3 had completed five orbit-raising manoeuvres around the earth.

Image Source: Chandrayaan-3 Gallery of

Rocket propulsion

Rocket propulsion is the force a rocket uses to get off the ground. The idea behind it comes from Newton’s third law of motion, which states that ‘for every action (force) in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. The many types of rocket propulsion include liquid fuel, solid fuel, cold gas and ion. 

Chandrayaan-3 is made up of an indigenous propulsion module, a lander module and a rover. Its goal is to create and test new technologies needed for interplanetary journeys. 

The propulsion module will move the lander and rover from an injection orbit to a 100-kilometre lunar orbit. It also has a Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planetary Earth (SHAPE) instrument to study spectral and polarimetric readings of Earth from lunar orbit. 

Image Source: Chandrayaan-3 Gallery of

Attitude Control

Attitude control refers to making sure that the axis of a satellite in orbit around the Earth is pointed in the right direction. A system that serves to analyse and control the orientation of satellites in space is therefore referred to as an attitude control system. The principle of conservation of angular momentum and Newton’s second law of rotational motion support attitude control. When applied to angular momentum, the law of conservation states that a rotating object’s momentum doesn’t change unless some kind of external torque, i.e., outside force, is applied.  Newton’s second law states that the acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables–the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft employs attitude control to stabilise its flight and aim its instruments and antennas in the desired direction. To accomplish attitude control, for instance, the mission utilises reaction wheels, thrusters, star sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc.

Improvements were made in Chandrayaan-3 based on the lessons learned from the failed soft landing mission of Chandrayaan-2. Some major improvements were strengthening the legs of the lander, enhancing fuel reserves and expanding the landing site. 

Image Source: Chandrayaan-3 Gallery of

Chandrayaan-3 entered the lunar orbit on 5th August 2023 and the lander touched down near the lunar south polar region on 23 August. India became the fourth nation to land on the moon and the first near the south pole of the moon.

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About the Author

“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!

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