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India set for a giant leap in space

December 31, 2007 09:46 IST

Capping a string of successes in 2007 in space research, India is poised to take a giant leap forward in the new year with the launch of its maiden moon mission Chandrayaan-I, a feat achieved by a few nations.

The year 2008 will also see India taking first steps towards putting a man in space.

In the year gone by, Indian Space Research Organisation achieved self-reliance in launch vehicle technology with the successful ground testing of the Cryogenic Upper Stage, a key component in putting heavier payloads in orbit.

Space scientists also performed the feat of bringing a spacecraft back to earth and were developing a rocket to put four-ton satellites in orbit. Hectic preparations are underway for the launch of 'Chandrayaan-I' on April 9.

Space capsule Recovery Experiment conducted micro gravity experiments in orbit for 12 days before it was reoriented and de-orbited to splash down at the designated location on January 22, 2007.

The precise splash down established India's capability to launch and control accurately to bring back a space capsule and made them confident to undertake more complex manned missions into low earth orbit.

The launch of SRE in the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C7 was significant as it also put into orbit three other payloads -- Cartosat-2 of ISRO, 56 kg LAPAN-TUBSAT satellite from Indonesia and six kg Pehuensat from Argentina.

Closely following the SRE was the launch of PSLV-C8 on April 23 carrying an Italian satellite AGILE into a low earth orbit. It was for the first time that the PSLV was used to send a single foreign payload into orbit, marking India's arrival in the global commercial launch market.

Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO charged the Italian space agency $29,000 per kg of satellite weight, perhaps offering the cheapest option for the putting a satellite in orbit.

Space scientists are working towards developing a newer version of the Geosynchronus Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV-MK III) that is expected to make satellite launches cheaper.

Research and development activities in semi-cryogenic propulsion stages, air breathing propulsion, re-usable launch vehicle technology are being pursued vigorously in an effort towards reducing the launch costs.

Despite nearly five decades of lunar missions, scientists still lack definitive answers to questions about the moon's origin, the minerals it contains and whether it has water that could support human life.

ISRO scientists have charted out a precise plan to hunt for these resources and have loaded Chandrayaan-I with a lunar orbiter and an impactor probe.

The orbiter will revolve around the moon at a distance of 100-km, scanning the earth's natural satellite with its remote sensing equipment like X-ray and gamma ray and laser imaging machines. It will look for hills and valleys and hunt for rare elements there.

The lunar orbiter will survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography over a two-year period.

India has installed two giant antennae to monitor Chandrayaan-I next year, provide command support during its two-year orbit around the moon and receive data from the mission.

The antennae, set up at Byalalu, 45 km from Bangalore, are a part of India's Deep Space Network, making it one of a few nations with such tracking ability. The IDSN will serve as the base station for future planetary exploration. It will also be used to track the proposed Astrosat, a space telescope designed to hunt for galactic clusters, new stars beyond the Milky Way.

ISRO is also planning to approach Japan and the US to allow the IDSN to track their on-going space missions Kaguya and the Mars Express.

As India gears up for its maiden moon mission, it has begun talks with Russia for Chandrayaan-II, a lunar mission that will be developed as a joint venture. India aims at landing a rover on the moon as part of Chandrayaan-II, which is planned for launch during 2011-12 timeframe.

Besides lunar missions, India is charting out plans to land spaceships on comets and asteroids besides working on a proposal to undertake a human spaceflight. The GSLV put communications satellite INSAT-4CR in orbit on September two. The launch was significant as the previous flight had failed to accomplish the mission.

INSAT-4B, the second satellite in the series in INSAT 4 series, was successfully launched on Ariane launch vehicle on March 12.

Sagar Kulkarni in New Delhi
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