Spacecraft finds sulphur and other elements as it searches for signs of frozen water nearly a week after historic landing.
India’s moon rover has confirmed the presence of sulphur and detected several other elements on the lunar south pole, says the country’s space agency.
Last week, India became the first country to land a craft near the largely unexplored south pole, and just the fourth nation to land on the moon.
“The Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument onboard Chandrayaan-3 Rover has made the first-ever in-situ measurements on the elemental composition of the lunar surface near the south pole,” the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said in a statement dated Monday.
“These in-situ measurements confirm the presence of sulphur in the region unambiguously, something that was not feasible by the instruments onboard the orbiters,” it said.
The spectrographic analysis also confirmed the presence of aluminium, calcium, iron, chromium and titanium on the lunar surface, ISRO added, with additional measurements showing the presence of manganese, silicon and oxygen.
The six-wheeled solar-powered rover Pragyan – wisdom in Sanskrit – will amble around the relatively unmapped south pole and transmit images and scientific data over its two-week lifespan as it searches for signs of frozen water that could help future astronaut missions as a potential source of drinking water or to make rocket fuel.
The rover also will study the moon’s atmosphere and seismic activity, ISRO chairman S Somanath said.
On Monday, the rover’s route was reprogrammed when it came close to a 4-metre-wide (13-foot-wide) crater. “It’s now safely heading on a new path,” ISRO said.
The craft moves at a slow speed of about 10 centimetres (4 inches) per second to minimise shock and damage to the vehicle from the moon’s rough terrain.
India has been steadily matching the achievements of other space programmes – active since the 1960s – at a fraction of their cost, despite suffering some setbacks.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission cost an estimated $75m – less than the budget of Hollywood space thriller, Gravity.
Four years ago, the previous Indian lunar mission failed during its final descent, in what was seen at the time as a huge setback for the programme.
Chandrayaan-3 has captivated public attention since launching nearly six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering spectators, and its successful touchdown on the moon last week came just days after Russia’s Luna-25 lander crashed in the same region.
Russia’s head of the state-controlled space corporation Roscosmos attributed the failure to the lack of expertise due to the long break in lunar research that followed the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.
In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to put a craft into orbit around Mars and plans to send a probe towards the sun in September.
ISRO is slated to launch a three-day crewed mission into Earth’s orbit by next year.
The agency is also planning its first mission to the International Space Station next year in collaboration with the United States, a joint mission with Japan to send another probe to the moon by 2025, and an orbital mission to Venus within the next two years.