India now plans robotic lunar sample return mission

Following the successful landing of Vikram on the Moon, officials of India’s space agency ISRO have announced it is considering a much more ambitious follow-up, Chandrayaan-4, that will not only land on the lunar surface with a much larger rover, it will also dig up some samples and return them to Earth.

The spacecraft will travel to the moon, land, collect samples, and then connect to another module in space. The module will then return to Earth orbit. As the two modules approach Earth, they will separate, with one part returning to Earth and the other will keep orbiting the planet. Desai described the mission as ambitious, stating, “Hopefully, in the next five to seven years, we will meet the challenge of bringing samples from the moon.”

For return to Earth, Desai said that the mission would need two launch vehicles containing four modules (Transfer module, Lander Module, Ascender Module and Re-entry module). RM and TM would be Parked in the lunar orbit and two will go down from which Ascender Module will get separated from lander module and would collect the sample.

If India does this mission, while also completing its first manned mission during that time frame, it will place itself in direct competition with China and the U.S., and in fact will be getting close to matching both in capabilities.