India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission’s Vikram lander has deployed its Pragyan lunar rover as it begins its exploration of the Moon’s south polar region. On August 24, the 60-lb (27-kg) robotic rover rolled down a ramp and charged its solar panels before beginning surface operations.
Today’s roll-out of Pragyan comes fast on the heels of Chandrayaan-3’s historic landing on August 23, which made India the fourth nation to safely land on the Moon and the first to do so in the lunar polar regions. In addition to demonstrating to the world India’s capability to make good its ambitions to become a first-tier space-faring power, the purpose of the mission is to seek out water ice that could be used to support a future crewed outpost.
Running on six wheels powered by a 50-watt solar power system, Pragyan isn’t the largest rover ever deployed, measuring only 3 ft (90 cm) long. It’s intended to only go about 1.600 ft (500 m) from the lander at a blazing speed of one centimeter (0.39 in) per day. Like the lander, it lacks a nuclear heating system, so it will only be able to operate for the remainder of the 14-day lunar day before the intense cold of the lunar night destroys it.
Onboard the rover is an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for studying the composition of the lunar surface and two one-megapixel cameras for creating 3D maps of the exploration area.