India has launched its third Moon mission, aiming to be the first to land near its little-explored south pole.
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft with an orbiter, lander and a rover lifted off at 14:35 on Friday (09:05 GMT) from Sriharikota space centre.
The lander is due to reach the Moon on 23-24 August.
If successful, India will be only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China.
Thousands of people watched the launch from the viewer’s gallery and commentators described the sight of the rocket “soaring in the sky” as “majestic”. The lift off was greeted with cheers and loud applause from the crowds and the scientists.
The BBC’s Arunoday Mukharji, who was at the launch site, said there were roars of “Bharat Mata ki jai [Victory to mother India]” from every corner of the hall.
“Chandrayaan-3 has begun its journey towards the Moon,” Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath said in his first comments following the successful lift off. “Our launch vehicle has put the Chandrayaan on the precise orbit around the Earth.” Isro tweeted that “the health of the spacecraft is normal”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Chandrayaan-3 had “scripted a new chapter in India’s space odyssey”.
“It soars high, elevating the dreams and ambitions of every Indian. This momentous achievement is a testament to our scientists’ relentless dedication. I salute their spirit and ingenuity!” he wrote on Twitter.
The third in India’s programme of lunar exploration, Chandrayaan-3 is expected to build on the success of its earlier Moon missions.
It comes 13 years after the country’s first Moon mission in 2008, which carried out “the first and most detailed search for water on the lunar surface and established the Moon has an atmosphere during daytime”, said Mylswamy Annadurai, project director of Chandrayaan-1.
Chandrayaan-2 – which also comprised an orbiter, a lander and a rover – was launched in July 2019 but it was only partially successful. Its orbiter continues to circle and study the Moon even today, but the lander-rover failed to make a soft landing and crashed during touchdown. It was because of “a last-minute glitch in the braking system”, explained Mr Annadurai.
Mr Somanath has said they have carefully studied the data from the last crash and carried out simulation exercises to fix the glitches.
Chandrayaan-3, which weighs 3,900kg and cost 6.1bn rupees ($75m; £58m), has the “same goals” as its predecessor – to ensure a soft-landing on the Moon’s surface, he added.
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