The Indian space probe Chandrayaan 1 adjusted its orbit around the moon in one of its final maneuvers before releasing a lunar impactor.
Chandrayaan 1 entered into an elliptical orbit around the moon on Saturday, 17 days after blasting off from Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. Yesterday, it fired up its engine to lower its orbit, which now ranges from a high point of about 4,660 miles (7,500 kilometers) to a low point above the lunar surface of 120 miles (200 kilometers). It is now orbiting the moon about every 10 and a half hours.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which leads the unmanned mission, says they plan to circularize Chandrayaan 1's polar orbit to about 60-mile (100-kilometer) altitude before dropping its Moon Impact Probe and booting up its scientific instruments.
The impactor will dispatch data back to the mother ship as it takes a suicide dive at the moon. The $80-million Chandrayaan mission carries 11 instruments contributed from an international group of scientists as well as the European Space Agency and NASA. Together, they plan to build a detailed map of the moon's terrain and of its chemical composition.
Chandrayaan 1 is India's first spacecraft to reach the moon and follows on the heels of Chinese and Japanese lunar orbiters that were launched last year.
(Image from NSSDC photo gallery by NASA)