India Enters Deep Space

About 30 Kms away from the IT capital of India – Bangalore – lies a small village called Byalalu. Here if you ask the villagers, about what their village is well known for – the reply you receive will be – we get good rainfall here, people here work very hard and the farmers grow abundant agricultural crops….

Next if you ask them, what has surprised them off late, they will point towards a huge umbrella! that has come up in their neighborhood. Nobody is allowed to enter that region which is a well guarded and a well fortified high tech research centre.

Yes, what the innocent villagers of Byalalu refer to as – Umbrellas – are actually a part of IDSN – Indian Deep Space Network!

ISRO – The Indian Space Research Organization has a dedicated wing for the deep space tracking of its missions called ISTRAC – ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network which is located at Peenya,Bangalore – and its network of antennas at Byalalu have ensured that India joins the club of those very few nations which have the self sufficiency to track their deep space missions – which include US, European Union, Japan, Russia, China and now India.

Deep Space Research Center at Byalalu
The Deep Space Research Center at Byalalu

What are the network of deep space tracking antennas at Byalalu currently doing?
Well, they are busy tracking, monitoring and commanding – Chandrayaan I – the first Indian mission to moon which was launched on October 22 2008.

Compared to other space age nations – India is a relatively new entry – which struggled to lift off its first launch vehicle some three decades back – which took its first satellite Aryabhatta to its launch pad on a bullock cart! But what India has achieved in the past three decades is a very steep learning and growth curve in terms of space research, and that too against all odds of sanctions from the west in its space age infancy, and is today poised as a major space force. The Indian unmanned mission to moon that was launched from Sri Harikota contains payload of sophisticated instruments from all across the globe including NASA . Recently, ISRO also set a world record by launching 10 satellites in one go on its PSLV launcher!

PSLV - launch vehicle of India's first moon missionPSLV – The launch vehicle of the first Indian Mission to Moon

Chandrayaan

Chandrayaan -I is the name of this first Indian mission to moon and is just the first step of the Indian entry into the deep space. In Sanskrit Chandrayaan means mooncraft or voyage to moon – Chandra means moon in Sanskrit and in most of the Indian languages – and yaan refers to voyage or craft. The mission was first announced in 2003 by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The mission was initially called Somayaan where soma means Moon in sanskrit, but was later changed to Chandrayaan based on a suggestion by Vajpayee.

Mission Objectives

The major objectives which ISRO plans to accomplish in this mission are

  • A high resolution 3D mapping of the complete lunar surface
  • Looking for traces of Helium 3 on moon
  • Search for surface or sub-surface water/ice at moon’s poles
  • Study of moon’s chemical and minerological compositions
  • Study of moon’s origin and evolution
  • And most important of all, as a testground and testlaunch to collect all relevant data to be used in future Indian deep space missions

The Journey

The PSLV launcher which took off on 22nd early morning at around 6 am IST from SriHarikota launch pad on the shores of Bay of Bengal, will complete its job of placing the 1380 kg spacecraft in earth orbit, in just 20 minutes!

Then the spacecraft will enter far earth orbit in two stages, and from there will begin the third stage of its 5.5 day long journey of over 3.86 lakh kilometers to moon using its own fuel.

In the fourth stage the spacecraft will arrive at a far lunar orbit of about 1000 km from moon, and in the final and fifth stage will enter a near lunar orbit of only 100 km above moon, the expected date of which is November 8 2008! From there it will start orbiting the moon for an expected period of about 2 years and the instruments aboard start collecting data and sending it back to earth.

Here the space craft will weight about 675 kg and after releasing the lunar impactor module on moon it will weigh about 520 kgs. Throughout its journey the spacecraft will be powered by its own array of solar panels.

Mission Payload

The mission carries five payloads from India and six international payloads which are being carried for free.

The Indian payloads are as follows:

  • High Resolution Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC) – Which will map the complete lunar terrain with a resolution as high as 5 metres.
  • Hyperspectral Imager (HySI) – will map minerological composition of the moon.
  • High Energy X-ray Spectrometer – will try to find any deposits of uranium and thorium on moon.
  • Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI)
  • 29 kg Moon Impact Probe (MIP)

The Moon Impact Probe will pave for future manned and unmanned soft landings on the moon. It will be released by the orbiting spacecraft to land on moon. The MIP is being used to demonstrate the technology capability of ISRO for the same. Based on a suggestion by the former president of India and the father of the Indian Missile Programme, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the MIP will also carry a 4×6″ miniature model of the Indian national flag, thus making India the fourth country in the world after Russia, US and Japan to have its national flag on moon.

The LLRI will help the spacecraft in maintaining its altitude over the lunar orbit.

The TMC will be for the first time doing a complete high resolution mapping of the entire lunar surface. All other earlier international probes to moon had only obtained details of a particular portion of the lunar surface on which they had landed.

The International payloads include three scientific instruments from NASA , two from European Space Agency and one from Bulgarian Aerospace Agency. Ever since the last spacecraft landed on moon, there has been a great deal of progress in developing sophisticated scientific instruments. Hence all the major international research institutions wanted to use this Indian space mission to moon to send their instruments there for data collection and research, and India – unlike the American administrations which till yesterday believed in imposing sanctions to contain technology transfer- is carrying all the international payloads for free. There were about 30 international proposals to carry their payloads on Chandrayaan – I, and after all due considerations ISRO selected six of them to come onboard.

One of the instruments from NASA being carried is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter , the information from which will be used by NASA to decide on the location of its Lunar Outpost where it is planning to construct facilities for human inhabitation on the moon, similar to the current stay of humans aboard the International Space Station .

Mission Cost

The total mission cost is about 386 Crore Indian Rupees (about $76 million) divided roughly as follows

  • 53 Crore for Payloads
  • 83 Crore for the Spacecraft
  • 100 Crore for establishing the IDSN – Indian Deep Space Network
  • 100 Crore for the PSLV launch vehicle
  • 50 Crore for scientific data centre, network support and programme management

Criticism

For those who cry foul about the costs saying that India still has poverty, etc and hence we dont need such costly missions here is an example. The amount of money involved in the fodder scam is 950 crores! This is just an example and it is anybody’s knowledge about the innumerable number of such large, medium and small scale political and administrative corruption cases that have happened and are happening in India. So those who sit comfortably inside their ac rooms, at pizza huts and other places doing fit for nothing talks like this, let them first get up and put an end to these corruption cases and then they will definitely end up with more than enough money to get rid of poverty in this country. Putting hold on a moon mission of a mere 386 Crore will not solve the huge poverty in this country, and at the same time doing such a stupid act will also put a hold on the technological advancements of the nation. Technology finally is there to benefit the common man and it will.

If those researchers who invented automobile engines had thought in the same way, that let us first end poverty and then do research, then we would have still been commutating using bullock carts. There are people with good brains in this country, and let them do research, and let us provide funds for the same. Just because the political and administrative class are not able to solve the social issues, let us not try to stop funding researchers and researches, and then cry foul when the brain drain happens to US because of lack of opportunity here.

By the way, those who talk about poverty in India, let them not be under the false impression that there is no poverty in US or in Europe. But that doesn’t stop those countries from funding NASA or the ESA, and which is why western nations became great powers, because their social problems did not prevent them from funding the big brains of their society to achieve scientific and technological advancements.

Moreover, for those who dont know it, ISRO is a commercial organization, its not simply flying satellites and rockets. It is making money, a lot of it, by launching commercial satellites, payloads, providing data, network and other assistance to other countries and private organizations etc. And even the current moon mission has a large commercial angle in the future. To name a few, the ISRO satellites are providing data and support for telecommunication, television broadcasting, meteorological services, resources monitoring and management, etc.

After the current success of Chandrayaan – I many scientists from NASA and abroad are seeking for any available opportunities to work at ISRO ! And this includes both Indian scientists abroad and also American scientists. This because, they are sensing that India is all set to go on an accelerated space research mode, and hence there lie an abundant amount of opportunities and scope for research at ISRO. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has said that “India’s mission should be a wake-up call to America” and “it was getting complacent or sloppy (for US) about maintaining its position as the foremost nation in space exploration”

Well, if you ask me, I consider Russians to be much more experienced in space exploration than US, especially in terms of human residence in space, the success of Mir is unparalleled, and without Russian assistance it would have been simply impossible to establish the International Space Station as a manned module in space.

The best works on modern science that I have read till todate are the english translations of books published by the Russian Mir Publications! The contents of those books are simply simplistic and awesome!

Future Missions

  • Chandrayaan 2 – Planned for 2011, in this mission ISRO in collaboration with Russian space agency, will develop a land rover for moon, which will travel on the moon on its wheels and pick up sample soil and rocks from the lunar surface, analyze them for their chemical composition, and send the data back to its mother ship in the lunar orbit, which in turn will send back the information to control centres on Earth.
  • By 2020 ISRO plans to send manned mission to Moon! To summarize, the Indian mission to moon and its subsequent followups will ensure that all future human space explorations will also include India as an equal player. International cooperation for space exploration for the benefit of humanity, will be the Mantra of the future.

Below is a series of video presentations on Chandrayaan in specific and on PSLV and moon in general.