India has launched its third mission to the moon, aiming to be the first to land near the moon’s little-explored south pole, the BBC reports.

The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft with an orbiter, a lander and a rover lifted off at 14:35 on Friday (09:05 GMT) from the Sriharikota space center.

The spacecraft is scheduled to reach the Moon on August 23-24, space officials said.

The south pole of the Moon is still largely unexplored, the surface that remains in shadow is much larger than that of the north pole of the Moon, which means that there is a possibility of water in areas that are permanently dark.

If successful, India will be only the fourth country to achieve a controlled landing on the Moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China. India’s third lunar exploration programme, Chandrayaan-3 is expected to build on the success of its previous lunar missions.

It comes 13 years after the country’s first mission to the Moon in 2008, which carried out “the first and most detailed survey of water on the lunar surface and found that the Moon has a daytime atmosphere,” said Mylswamy Annadurai, project manager of Chandrayaan-1.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission – which also included an orbiter, a lander and a rover – was launched in July 2019 but was only partially successful. The spacecraft’s orbiter continues to circle and study the Moon even today, but the rover failed to make a controlled landing and crashed on landing.

Chandrayaan-3, which weighs 3,900 kilograms and costs 6.1 billion rupees ($75 million), has the “same goals” as its predecessor, to make a soft landing on the lunar surface.

The lander, named Vikram after the Isro founder, weighs about 1,500 kg and carries the 26 kg rover named Pragyaan, which means ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit, in its hull.

After Friday’s liftoff, the craft will take about 15 to 20 days to enter lunar orbit. Scientists will then begin to slow the rocket down in the coming weeks to bring it to a point that will allow Vikram to make a controlled landing.

If all goes well, the six-wheeled rover will land and roam around the rocks and craters on the Moon’s surface, collecting critical data and images that will be sent back to Earth for analysis.