An unmanned spacecraft India launched last month has begun orbiting the moon ahead of a planned lunar landing on the far side to search for water.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said it has manoeuvred Chandrayaan – the Sanskrit word for “moon craft” – into lunar orbit.
The lander will then separate from the orbiter and use rocket fuel to brake as it attempts to land in the south polar region of the moon on September 7.
A rover will search for water deposits, which were confirmed by a previous Indian moon mission.
Scientists have said the water and mineral deposits could make the moon a good refuelling station for further space travel.
The success rate of landing on the moon is only 37%, according to ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan.
He said that when the semi-autonomous lander touches down, after matching the landing spot with pre-loaded images of the region, “it’ll be a mix of feeling, of happiness and tension and more anxiety,” likening it to a “bridegroom separated from the parents’ house”.
A rover will then study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain 100 million tonnes of water – deposits that were confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.
Dr Sivan said Nasa’s Artemis mission will use the data from Chandrayaan-2 to send astronauts to the moon by 2024, preparing the way for human missions to Mars.
“The globe is waiting for our data,” Dr Sivan said.
Dr Sivan has said that the $140 million (£115 million) Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation’s most prestigious to date, in part because of the technical complexities of landing on the lunar surface – an event he described as “15 terrifying minutes”.
No landing has ever been attempted in the south polar region before. If the Indian team does manage the landing, it will be only the fourth country to do so after the US, Russia and China.