India cancels launch of second moon mission hours before blast-off

The launch of India’s second ever lunar mission has been cancelled less than an hour before its blast-off due to technical issues.

The Chandrayaan-2 – which cost $150 million (£119 million) – was set to become the first satellite to land on the Moon’s south pole.

It was scheduled to launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, which is situated on an island off the coast of the south-east state of Andhra Pradesh, at 2.51 am local time.  

However, with just 56 minutes until take-off it was suddenly postponed with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) confirming a "technical snag was observed in [the] launch vehicle system."

The ISRO is expected to give more detail about the issue and announce a new launch date in due course. 

A soft landing on the Moon refers to the touchdown and deployment of a device on the Moon’s surface which can be used to relay information back to the Earth.

Only three nations have completed a “soft landing” so far.

The former Soviet Union was the first country to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon in 1966, followed mere months later by the United States.

The two nations rivaled one another through their exploration of the Moon until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, in a period known as the “Space Race”.

The Chandrayaan-2 as it prepared for lift off this morningCredit:

Rapid economic growth in China saw the country fund its first successful “soft landing” in 2013 and India has been keen to follow suit, seeing the landing of a craft on the moon as evidence that it has joined the global elite.

An Israeli “soft landing” attempt in April was also unsuccessful.

In total, there are now 72 different government space agencies – increasingly in developing countries like Algeria, Bolivia and Sri Lanka – as nations place more importance on establishing a presence in space and defending their interests, such as through spy satellites

The Chandrayaan-2 contained two key research components. An orbiter was planning to circle the moon for around a year, taking pictures of its surface and sending back detail about its atmosphere.

A solar-powered rover was then to explore the surface around the Moon’s unknown south pole, looking for the existence of water and other minerals.

The Indian space programme has long attracted criticism since its inception in 1962. 

Critics argue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have spent the money used to construct the Chandrayaan-2 on alleviating penury in the country. Some 270 million people – 22% of the population – still live below the poverty line according to the World Bank.  

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Yet, for many Indians the programme is seen as a great source of national pride with almost all of the Chandrayaan-2’s components built in India. 

In March, Modi announced that the country had become a ‘space superpower’ after his forces successfully shot down a low-orbit satellite. The Prime Minister also promised he would launch a manned mission into space by 2022 and land a probe on Mars.