Chandrayaan - Mission Moon

All about Indian Mission to Moon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chandrayaan may explain origins of Moon: British scientist

A British scientist who helped design a camera on board India’s Chandrayaan-1 says he hopes images from it will help answer two tantalising questions about the Moon.

“Where did the Moon come from? And could it ever sustain human life?” Maneul Grande of Aberystwyth Universtiy told the Times newspaper.

“After the Apollo landings, people thought they knew a fair bit about the Moon - they’d seen people walking around up there,” said Grande, who helped to design the European Space Agency’s camera that will take X-ray images of the Moon’s surface.

“But the more they looked at the results in detail, people realised the things we don’t understand - like where it came from, or the possible existence of water.”

Unlike US Apollo expeditions that have explored the same area - on the near side and on its equator - to make it easier to return to Earth, the Grande camera will take images of the entire Moon, the Times said.

It will analyse its glow to detect the presence of six key elements - iron, titanium, calcium, magnesium, silicon and aluminium.

The paper said Grande hopes that the results will help explain whether the Moon is an alien body that collided with the Earth, or is part of the Earth that was broken off after a collision with another body.

“The findings might soon help to support human life on the Moon - for example, at a manned base that Nasa is planning to build,” the Times reported.

Grande said he expected “more and more manned bases on the Moon in the next 20-30 years”.

'India to launch manned moon mission by 2015'

Soon after India became the sixth nation in the world who sent spacecrafts to the moon, with the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) revealed that India would launch its proposed manned mission to the moon by 2015. ISRO said that it would gear up for the complex and challenging task of the manned mission.

U.s., former Soviet Union, European Space Agency, China and Japan have sent spacecrafts to the moon before India.

G Madhavan Nair, ISRO Chairman said, "Now we have a little bit of breathing time (after today's launch), we are looking how we can design a capsule, which can carry two astronauts onboard a GSLV rocket."

"This is a very complex and challenging task, first of all to conceive a module, which can predict the condition of human life in space. It is a big challenge in terms of technology and realization," he added.

He further pointed out that selecting the astronauts and training them for the space flight and improving the reliability of the launching system are also complex issues. "Considering all these, we have prepared a project report and this had been cleared by the Space Commission and is awaiting the government approval. Based on this, we will have the first man mission from Indian soil before 2015," Nair mentioned.

"ISRO would try to handle the proposed mission without any help from countries that had prior experience in manned missions. It will be completely driven by us. However, if there is any scope for meaningful collaboration, we will consider it," he said.

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft's orbit raised

The first orbit-raising manoeuvre of Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was performed at 09:00 hrs Indian Standard Time (IST) on Thursday morning (October 23) when the spacecraft's 440 Newton liquid engine was fired for about eighteen minutes by commanding the spacecraft from Spacecraft Control Centre (SCC) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Peenya, Bangalore.

With this engine firing, Chandrayaan-1's apogee (farthest point to Earth) has been raised to 37,900 km, while its perigee (closest point to the Earth) has been raised a little, to 305 km. In this orbit, Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft takes about eleven hours to go round the Earth once.

India's first space craft to the Moon Chandrayaan-1 (name of the Moon craft in Sanskrit) was launched by PSLV-C11 rocket on October 22, 2008, morning from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, 80 km from Chennai, but on the Andhra Pradesh coast.

The almost ten-storey high four-stage rocket placed Chandrayaan-1 in an elliptical orbit with a perigee of 255 km and apogee of 22,860 km. In this initial orbit, Chandrayaan-1 orbited the Earth once in about six and a half hours. 

Following its successful launch, the SCC acquired the first signals and conducted preliminary operations on Chandrayaan-1. The Deep Space Network (DSN) at Bylalu village near Bangalore  tracked the spacecraft in this orbit and received signals in S and X band and has sent commands to the spacecraft.

An Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO] press release on Thursday quoting senior officials said all systems onboard the spacecraft are functioning normally. Further orbit raising manoeuvers are planned in the coming few days.

ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair has indicated that that spacecraft will be injected into the lunar trajectory around November 8. The 1,308-kg spacecraft is carrying eleven payloads -- five ISRO and the other from international agencies like NASA, European Space Agency and the Bulgarian aerospace agency.

The two-year unmanned mission to the Moon, four lakh km away, will survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography.

Scientists hope that the data relayed by the spacecraft will throw some more light in understanding the origins of the solar system in general and the Moon in particular, especially its mineral and water content.

Some of the instruments in the spacecraft are: the Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC) to produce a high-resolution map of the Moon; the Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI) to perform mineralogical mapping; the Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI) will determine the surface topography. An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to monitor solar flux and a High
Energy X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer to measure degassing and other radioactive elements.

Among foreign tech centres participating in this Indian Moon mission are Brown  University, NASA-funded Jet Propulsion Lab, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Polish Academy of Science and University of Bergen, Naval Air Warfare Center, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Sandia National

The spacecraft is mainly powered by its solar array, which includes one solar panel covering a total area of 2.15 x 1.8 m2 generating 700W of power, which is stored in a 36 A/h Lithium-ion battery and it also uses a bipropellant integrated propulsion system to reach lunar orbit as well as orbit and attitude maintenance while orbiting the Moon.

The Russian space agency is in talks with ISRO for Chandrayaan-2 project where ISRO hopes to land a motorised rover on the Moon in two or three years from now. The 30kg to 100kg rover will be designed to move on wheels on the lunar surface, pick up samples of soil or rocks, do in situ chemical analysis and send the data to the mother-spacecraft Chandrayaan II, orbiting above it and in transmit data back to the Earth.

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP), made by ISRO scientists, will be ejected once it reaches 100 km orbit around the Moon; MIP also has a high resolution mass spectrometer, an S-Band altimeter and a video camera. The interesting feature with the MIP is that it carries a picture of the Indian national flag making India the fourth to plant a flag on the Moon after Russia, USA and Japan.

Chandrayaan-I - What they told on Success

The launch of Chandrayaan-I, India’s first unmanned moon mission, was almost deferred minutes before blast-off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. “The flow of propellant in the second phase of the vehicle was not right and we had to take corrective measures. The problem, which was noticed on Monday evening, continued to bother us till the last hour,” project director M Annadurai said. But finally everything fell in place.

PSLV takes off in three seconds as a cloud of fire blurs vision


Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair (centre) with fellow scientists at a press conference at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota soon after the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1

It is a historic moment. We have begun our journey to the moon. It has been a remarkable performance by the launch vehicle (PSLV C11), which was perfectly launched. Every parameter of the mission performed as per the plan.
-Madhavan Nair, Isro chairman

“This marks the first step in what we hope will be a historic milestone in India’s space programme. I congratulate all the scientists associated with this mission for the successful completion of the first step. When completed, the mission will put India in the very small group of six countries, which have thus far sent space missions to the moon.”
-Manmohan Singh, Prime minister



“This day shall go down as a landmark in our space programme, a day which will inspire our space scientists to further work on our mission to put an Indian astronaut into space using an Indian space capsule. Congratulations to you and your team at Isro for the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1... I am keenly looking forward to the entry of Chandrayaan-1 into the lunar orbit a few days from now.”
-Pratibha Patil, President

“Our space scientists have made the country proud with this extraordinary achievement that expands our scientific knowledge about the moon and demonstrates the high level of technological capabilities of our scientists. I congratulate our space scientists and all those associated with this successful mission to the moon for this splendid achievement.”
-Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Vice president

“The US congratulates India on the successful launch. This is a proud moment in Indian history and demonstrates India’s technological prowess by joining the international community in the peaceful exploration of space.”
-David Mulford, US ambassador to India

“We congratulate Isro on the successful launch this morning and we are eagerly looking forward to science to begin.”
-David Southwood, director of science, ESA

“It was an emotional experience all over again and it gave me the opportunity to relive my flight itself… I must say the tension was higher … this was different. ISRO has kind of come of age and is ready to take on exploration in a big way,”
-Rakesh Sharma, India’s first man in space

“Launching of the mission is first step and I hope every step of the mission falls at the right place.”
-APJ Abdul Kalam, Former president of India

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

India's first moon mission is world's 68th

Chandrayaan-1, that lifts off Wednesday morning from Sriharikota, is India's first and the world's 68th mission to the moon, the earth's closest celestial body which has fascinated children, scientists and poets alike.

{lsquo}{lsquo}Through the ages, the moon, our closest celestial body, has aroused curiosity in our mind, far more than any other objects in the sky,{rsquo}{rsquo} says the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on its maiden moon mission.

The world's first moon mission was by the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on Jan 2, 1959, followed two months later by the US on March 3.

Between them, the two countries have sent 62 missions to probe the moon with the US stealing a march over the then cold war rival USSR by landing a man on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Japan broke the monopoly of the two superpowers on Jan 24, 1990 by sending its spacecraft Hiten to orbit the moon. The European Space Agency launched its probe in September 2003. China sent its spacecraft Chang-e last year.

The first hard landing on the moon was on Sep 12, 1959 by Soviet Union's Luna 2.

The first photos from the moon were taken by Oct 4, 1959 from the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3.

On Jan 26, 1962, the US Ranger 3 missed the Moon by 36,793 km.

The Soviet Union's Luna 6 did worse on June 8, 1965 missing the moon by 160,000 km.

Luna 9 made up for it on Jan 31, 1966 by becoming the first spacecraft to soft land on the moon.

The Indian mission to the moon was proposed at a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1999.

Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the project was on course in his Independence Day speech on Aug 15, 2003.

The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is cuboid in shape, weighs 1,304 kg at launch and 590 kg at lunar orbit. It will carry 11 payloads, including six from abroad.

A canted single-sided solar array will generate required power for the spacecraft during its two-year mission. The solar array generates 700 watts of peak power. During eclipse the spacecraft will be powered by Lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries.

The spacecraft employs an X-band, 0.7-metre diameter parabolic antenna for payload data transmission.

The Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TTC) communication is in S-band frequency and scientific payload data transmission in X-band frequency.

The spacecraft has three Solid State Recorders (SSRs) to record data from various payloads.

SSR-1 will store science payload data and has capability of storing 32 GB data.

The 8 GB SSR-2 will store science payload data along with spacecraft attitude information, satellite house keeping and other auxiliary data.

The third SSR with 10 GB SSR is for storing M3 (Moon Mineralogy Mapper) payload data.

On the ground, Chandrayaan-1 will be tracked by the Deep Space Station (DSN), Spacecraft Control Centre (SCC) and Indian Space Science Data Centre (ISSDC).

The spacecraft will blast off on an upgraded version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, built first in the early 1990s by ISRO.

PSLV is ISRO's workhorse launch vehicle. The upgraded version, PSLV-C11, has a liftoff weight of 316 tonnes.

Chandrayaan-1 costs Rs.3.86 billion (about $76 million): Rs.530 million (about $11 million) for Payload development, Rs.830 million (about $17 million) for Spacecraft Bus,

Rs.1 billion ($20 million) for Deep Space Network, Rs.1 billion ($20 million) for PSLV launch vehicle, and Rs.500 million ($10 million) for scientific data centre, external network support and programme management expenses.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Countdown to moon mission begins

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set to launch Chandrayaan-1, the country's first unmanned moon mission, with the be ginning of 49- hour countdown early on Monday.

"The countdown for the launch of Chandrayaan-1, which began this morning at 5.22 am is progressing smoothly, SDSC Associate Director Dr M Y S Prasad said.

The unmanned spacecraft using India's tried and tested rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), would be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) in Sriharikota, about 80 km from here on Wednesday at 6.20 am.

All operations were progressing satisfactorily for the launch of the spacecraft. "The 49-hour countdown has number of activities including the major propellant filling of PS-2 and PS-4," he said.

Earlier the countdown was set to 52 hours. "Since all the formal activities for the launch was finished three hours earlier from the original schedule, the countdown time was set at exactly 5.22 am on Monday, Prasad said.

"About 43 tonnes of propellant would be filled during the countdown period. Pressurisation of actuators (mechanisms) will also be done at the same time," he added.

Prasad said it would take about 32 hours for both filling of propellants and pressurisation. Other things, including couple of launch testing will also be done during the period.

He said after the rehearsals, SDSC officials had ensured that everything was in place before the countdown. "All the preparatory works, including the checking of 11 payloads, were done successfully before the countdown," he said.

India will plant flag on the moon: ISRO chief

Two days before the launch of India's first lunar orbiter, chairman of the

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G. Madhavan Na
ir said on Monday that
India will plant its flag on the moon to help establish its presence on the earth's only natural satellite.

India will drop its flag on the moon to establish its presence, Nair said in an interview. This will make India the fourth country after the US, Russia, and Japan to have its flag on the moon.

Asked for the geopolitical reason behind the planting of the flag, Nair said: "Today, as per the international charter, the moon belongs to the global community. Nobody can make special claim on the surface. But in due course, we don't know how things will change. But our presence will be established through this mission."

Nair also reiterated in the interview that ISRO planned to put a man in space by 2015. "If certain finer observation are to be made, online decisions have to be made, the presence of man becomes important," he said.

"The man behind the instrument. And also the reaction time for any decision will be a fraction of a second, whereas you know it takes almost eight seconds for the data to come from the moon to the earth and then again sent back and so on, and here also somebody has to ultimately if you want to do a perfect experiment, man behind the instrument is a must."

Nair said it would cost around Rs.100 billion to put a man in space. However, he added, "in the Indian context we are committed to taking the space technology for grass root applications. We have done that and we will continue to do so. So nearly 80 percent of the budget is going to be spent on programmes which are relevant to the common man."

The lunar orbiter mission Chandrayaan that will be launched Wednesday will look for water on the moon, Nair confirmed. "If you are thinking of establishing lunar colony, water is essential element for that and if from it you can generate oxygen, and also if you can decompose and generate into fuel which is required for interplanetary travel, so the presence of water is a very-very important element for further exploration."

Nair also confirmed that the mission would look for Helium-3, one of the fuels for nuclear fusion. "Even one tonne of that can sustain the entire country's energy for one year," he pointed out. Reiterating that there was Helium-3 on the moon, he added: "Is it in abundant quantity, whether we can exploit, these are question marks."

The ISRO chief said that after the moon, the organisation had its sights set on Mars. "The GSLV can take a nearly 500 kg spacecraft to Mars. So if there are good ideas about experimental exploration of that system we can have the Mars mission and in about 3-4 years."

"If we want to maintain our leadership naturally we have to have the scientific goals which is set ahead so that we can be really either at par or ahead of the others in some of the fields. So this is a really challenging task. We believe that India, such a big nation, huge resources, both natural and human resource... we should be in leadership position as far as our space technology is concerned."

Asked if the space programme was cost effective, Nair said that for every rupee spent, ISRO gave back Rs.1.50 to the Indian society. "That is the first part of it. The second part is, the human resource and the technology we create, that is not valued. That is tremendous."

Asked if India have a colony on the moon sometime, Nair said: "We cannot lag behind others in this race. We have to really catch up and we should have our own technology for the manned capsule.

"Of course initial thing would be around earth itself, then from there how to send a man to the moon etc has to be considered. And today with the economic growth what you are seeing in the country this is affordable.

"And a very small fraction of the national budget we spend on space technology. It is really worth it. In fact if you take the entire budget for the space programme it is like 0.2-0.3 (percent) of the national budget. So it is very small compared to...others are using even up to 2 or 3%."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A giant step

There is nothing loony about India’s moon mission, which will get off the starting blocks with the launch of Chandrayaan-I on Wednesday.

It comes 39 years after first moon landing, and 50 years after the space race began between the US and the then Soviet Union. The Americans had abandoned its moon missions in the mid-1970s and focus shifted in the 1980s and 1990s to space exploration and the International Space Station project.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been meticulously upgrading its satellite launch vehicles with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and it is moving towards the Geo-Synchronic Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSL) model.

India is a player in space  programmes, but the projects so far have been about slotting
communication and other satellites in the near earth orbits — so crucial for global telecommunication  networks that underpin the  information society.

With Chandrayaan-I, India enters another league. This is the first major step on the part of India to do research work on its own. The lunar missions of the past have not really unravelled all the scientific aspects of the earth’s natural satellite.

Exploring the moonscape for minerals, and even possible fuels remains to be accomplished. It would be a mistake to dismiss the Indian effort as a me-too enterprise; it would be fairer to say that it picks up from where the former moon  missions left off.

There are two aspects to the Chandrayaan project. The first is the very exercise of putting a satellite in the lunar orbit to study the planet closely. It is an artificial window to the moon. This exercise hones the skills of Indian scientists to place vehicles, modules and satellites of various sizes in the space.

The other is the study of the moon itself, which is going to expand our knowledge of the nearest planet that orbits round the earth. It will open up fields which could be of immense importance in the future.

There is of course the public relations quotient of the whole enterprise. Chandrayaan-I is going to place India in the league of the few countries engaged in space research, and it is certainly a national morale booster.

At a time when things look quite gloomy on the economic and political fronts, we have cause to rejoice in the country’s ever-growing capability in the frontier field of space research and exploration. Commercial spin-offs are aplenty, and it could serve as an ignition key of economic growth. Our space scientists have earned our admiration.

Mile stones on the road to India’s first moon mission

Chandrayaan-I (Indian Lunar Craft-I) is an unmanned lunar exploration mission by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The mission includes a lunar orbiter as well as an impactor. The spacecraft will be launched by a modified version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The ISRO has identified Mylswamy Annadurai as Project Chief.

The spacecraft is scheduled for launch on October 22 with a window fixed between October 19 and October 28.

The scientific payload has a total mass of 90 kg and contains six Indian instruments and six foreign instruments.

The main mile stones in the development  the first Indian moon mission are as follows.


·        ISRO planned for the mission

·        The plan for the first moon mission discussed at the annual conference of the Indian academy Of Sciences

A task force 100 scientists constituted to work out the technical aspects of the mission
Membership to International Moon Exploration Club sought


·        Parliament’s approval given to go ahead with the mission


·        Agreement with European Space Agency for the technical support reached


·        Official declaration for sending the space craft for the exploration of the moon made

·        Work to fabricate the space craft started

Concurrently, the work started for the second moon mission

US agreed to give two instruments to be carried on board

Fabrication work and laboratory testing for various functions done

Launch formalities completed for Oct 20, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Space network, a 'hotline' from Bangalore to moon

When India's first lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 lifts off from Sriharikota Wednesday, the telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) of the space agency in Bangalore will guide the mission on its 18-day voyage to the moon's polar orbit.

Soon after reaching the lunar orbit, the Deep Space Network (DSN) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at Byalalu, about 40 km from this tech hub, will take charge of the spacecraft and become a 'hotline' between its payloads and space scientists over the next two years.

"The ground facilities of the Chandrayaan mission comprising the spacecraft control centre (SSC) at Istrac, DSN and space science data centre (ISSDC) at Byalalu will be the channel of communication, monitoring the spacecraft's health, including its orbit and altitude and conduct its payload operations," Istrac director S.K. Shivakumar told IANS.

These three ground facilities will also process the wealth of data from the mission for scientists and technologists with auxiliary information. It will also be a storage centre of payload and spacecraft data.

As the focal point of the operational phase, Istrac's s-band network stations will support the mission during the launch and early orbit phase, which includes earth transfer orbit, with an apogee of about 100,000 km.

The network's other stations are located at Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and at Port Louis in Mauritius. Depending on the mission requirements, network stations at Biak (Indonesia) and Bears Lake (Russia) will also be involved in the operation.

"The antennae at the network stations have been configured to support the mission during the transfer orbits, with two-carrier reception and uplink in s-band. The stations are also equipped for remote control from the network control centre," Shivkumar explained.

The SCC will store command files forwarded from the control centre for transmission to the spacecraft as per the marked time. The tracking data comprising range, Doppler and Angle data of the spacecraft will be transferred to the control centre for orbit determination. The payload data will be transmitted to ISSDC for further processing.

"Mission activities will be conducted from SCC. The spacecraft's health-keeping data will be monitored in real-time to ensure smooth functioning of the onboard systems.

"Telecommand for change in on-board configurations and payload operations will be up-linked after verification, simulation and due authorisation. The centre will also be equipped to handle special operations and contingency recovery," Shivakumar noted.

The DSN will transmit radio commands to the spacecraft during all the phases of the mission. It will also receive radio signals from the spacecraft, however feeble they become by the time they reach the earth.

The DSN consists of two large parabolic antennas - one with 18-metre diameter and the other with 32-metre diameter. The 32-metre antenna with its seven-mirror beam waveguide system has been indigenously designed, developed, built, installed, tested and qualified.

"The DSN with its base band system adhering to CCSDS (Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems) standards will facilitate cross-support among the telemetry tracking command agencies," Shivakumar noted.

"The reception capability will be in both s-band and x-band. The base-band system will adhere to CCSDS standards. The station is also equipped to control remotely from the Istrac network control centre," the director said.

"All payload data in its raw form along with auxiliary spacecraft data will be received at DSN station. The data will be archived at the ISSDC, This data centre will be the repository of data from all science experiments," Shivakumar added.

The data will be processed with software. Its dissemination will be carried out as per policy guidelines of the space agency.

Going forward, as nucleus of India's space exploration missions, the DSN will be used for observations of celestial bodies in the solar system and for radio-astronomy observations of the universe.

For instance, the DSN provides planetary and solar scientists with data about changes in a radio signal as a spacecraft passes through a planet's atmosphere. Scientists interpret such data to better understand planetary atmosphere.

The next mission for which DSN will be used will be Astrosat, a unique 1,000-kg space telescope designed to scout for galactic clusters, new stars beyond the Milky Way and a variety of cosmological phenomenon.

India to leave mark on the moon

On his nightly stroll, G Madhavan Nair, chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), used to gaze at the moon for its luminous beauty. Now, whenever he hears the word ‘moon', which he does hundreds of times a day, he thinks of the 1,304-kg spacecraft carrying the 29-kg moon impact probe that will crash land on the lunar surface, just days after PSLV-C11 takes off at 6.20 am on October 22.

Nair told STOI that he'll start to gaze at the moon once again, but with a very real professional interest, "when our mission reaches there." At present, he's busy preparing for the "big event". He says he has no time to look at the moon because "I have to look at the thousand engineers and technicians who have been working on this for three years. For the last three weeks, they've been working round the clock."

Senior ISRO scientists, including Nair, PSLV-C11 project director George Koshi and VSSC director K Radhakrishnan, have been shuttling between their offices across the country and the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, an island by the sea, 100 km north of Chennai. On Saturday, a ‘dress rehearsal' was held. The 45-metre PSLV-C11 was taken out of the vehicle assembly building to the umbilical tower of launch pad (No. 2), about 600 m away, and brought back.

Even as a team of 120 engineers and technicians from VSSC Thiruvananthapuram monitors the launch vehicle, another 75-member team is conducting vehicle assembly and static tests (VAST). A core group of 50 scientists and technicians from Bangalore's Satellite Centre is closely monitoring the spacecraft's health.

"The real action begins at 2.20 am Monday when the 52-hour countdown begins," says a scientist. "About 13 hours before the launch, the liquid propellant will be filled. After that, it's a second-by-second monitoring of precision." As PSLV-C11 stands majestically near the launch pad, 5 km from mission control, Madhavan Nair is composed, but cautious.

"This is a complex and difficult mission. For the first time, we are going beyond gravity and into lunar orbit. We've been simulating the manoeuvres for almost two years," he says. He says the weather, with the onset of the North-East monsoon, may be the biggest worry of them all. "We have a window period from October 22 to 28. Hope everything goes well."

The local population is cheering on Operation Moon. "I have seen many launches, but this time it's the moon we are aiming at," says a woman who has a shop at the space centre gates. Shafiullah, a 28-year-old fisherman from Navipet village, 16 km away, says a launch means no work for him, as fishermen aren't allowed to venture out to sea. "But we don't mind that," he says, "We're thrilled at the thought of India leaving its mark on the moon." At the Space Centre School, young boys argue over the chances of the moon probe landing or crashing on the lunar surface. Moon gazing has become everybody's business.

Moonstruck. Why?

The year was 1999. The date: May 11. The occasion: the first anniversary of Pokhran-II, the nuclear blasts that allowed India to gatecrash closed club of nuclear power states. Speaking on the occasion, K Kasturirangan, the then chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), broached an idea that would stir fierce debate within the Indian scientific community.

Kasturirangan suggested that India could now aim for the moon using its indigenously-developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which had a successful track record of putting satellites into space. Nearly 10 years later, ISRO is on the verge of making the suggestion a reality. But as the mission enters its final decisive phase, it may be time to ask again if the country really stands to benefit from going to the moon. Also, why does India need to go the moon at all when the Americans and Russians have already done that more than 40 years ago?

Scientists say Chandrayaan's benefits will not become immediately apparent. It will take at least 30 to 40 years to do so. Today, thanks to the satellites launched many years ago, even remote villages can rely on access to telephones and medical care through telemedicine. Similarly, if Helium 3, which is reported to be present on the lunar surface, is brought back to earth, it could help solve the energy crisis. A tonne of Helium 3, says experts, can generate a year's supply of energy. Minerals found on the lunar surface could be commercially exploited by India. "It's a long-term plan. We will need the minerals not just for the earth, but also when we colonise the moon or move to Mars," says T K Alex, director of Bangalore's ISRO Satellite Centre.

But it is the other spin-offs from research and development that could really change things. More jobs will be created when India manufactures the components necessary for further missions; revenue will flow in when India leases the PSLV and GSLV launch vehicles to other countries. Scientists argue that there are other intangible advantages as well. Attracting youngsters to space studies and aerospace research is one.

Most important, perhaps, it would propel India into a different league. Amitabha Ghosh, an Indian space scientist at NASA, says, "Successful execution of the project would tremendously enhance the country's brand value.
Just as the Corus deal proved that India has arrived in the world of business, Chandrayaan-I will hugely boost the confidence of Indians. It would also be recognition that India has arrived in the Space Club and will be proof that its engineering talent can pull off a complex project of this magnitude. The price tag is not prohibitive either: the mission will cost less than 0.1% of India's revenue collection."

At an estimated cost of Rs 386 crore, India's outing to the moon would be much cheaper than purchasing a Boeing 747. Skeptics insist that the money could have been spent on more ‘useful' projects such as feeding India's poor, but many in the scientific community say cost is hardly the right reason to argue against Chandrayaan.

Instead, it is the duplication of effort by other countries decades ago. As Jayant Murthy, professor of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, points out, "Scientific know-how from the mission would not stand up to genuine peer review. In other words, one could put together a more scientifically-compelling mission for the same money and effort, perhaps not focussed on lunar research but on other topics of current interest."

But ISRO officials say Chandrayaan is not a "me too" effort. "Despite many manned and unmanned missions undertaken in the last four-and-a-half decades, not everything about the moon is fully understood," says ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair. "One of the main objectives of Chandrayaan-I would be to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the moon. Besides, it will also help increase the sophistication of our space systems like INSAT and IRS."

S K Chakrabarti, senior professor at the department of Astrophysics and Cosmology in Kolkata's S N Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, adds that "we don't have to follow China or any other country. Look at Russia. They have benefited so much more without sending a manned mission to the moon."

ISRO scientists believe that Chandrayaan will enable them to reach a new level of expertise. "India already had the basic elements - like indigenously-developed PSLV rocket launchers - that were required to attempt a project like this. The challenge was in scaling up our capabilities to the level required for such a mission," says a senior ISRO scientist.

To illustrate the level of this scability, Chandrayaan-I would be launched just like any other satellite using the PSLV. But while other ISRO satellite launches, such as INSAT and IRS, targeted the earth's orbit and went a maximum distance of 36,000 km, Chandrayaan will travel nearly 10 times further, since the moon is 3,86,000 km from the earth.

"The surmounting of such challenges and the successful launch of Chandrayaan-I would no doubt be a step forward in India's space odyssey," says George Joseph, former director of the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre, who chaired the Lunar Mission Study Task Force set up by ISRO to study the mission's feasibility. "It is important for India to consider the scenario 100 years from now when human colonies on the moon could become a reality. India should be in the forefront of this challenging and exciting endeavour."

If Chandrayaan-I makes it to the moon successfully, it would admittedly be a small step for space missions around the world but could it be a giant leap for India's space programme?

Moon mission has strategic and economic value: Kalam

As scientists are gearing up for the maiden launch of India's unmanned moon mission, former President A P J Abdul Kalam on Saturday said it would help the country economically as well as strategically.

"The mission has economic and strategic value," Kalam told reporters on the sidelines of a function here when asked to comment on the ambitious mission. He, however, refused to elaborate on it further.

The lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-I, India's first space mission beyond the earth's orbit, is scheduled for blast off on October 22 from the Sriharikota spaceport.

Chandrayaan-1 aims at expanding scientific knowledge about the moon, upgrade India's technological capability and provide challenging opportunities for planetary research to the younger generation of Indian scientists.

These well-defined objectives would be achieved through high-resolution remote sensing of moon in visible, near infrared microwave and x-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Meanwhile, ISRO scientists began launch rehearsal exercises at the Sriharikota spaceport as part of preparatory drill for the blast off.

A 52-hour countdown for the mission is expected to commence in the early hours of October 20.

India's most ambitious space mission to date would undertake comprehensive mapping of the Moon for the first time in the world. Earlier missions to moon by some other countries were aimed at specific regions or looked at only certain aspects.

We Can Easily Catch Up With China'

What does the moon mission mean to ISRO and India? What message does it send out to the world?

First of all, it is a major technology challenge. So far we have sent our satellites to a distance of nearly 36,000 kms and put them in a geo-stationary orbit. But, for the first time we are travelling 400,000 kms. To reach near the moon and put the satellite in a suitable orbit around it, poses a lot of technology challenge in terms of tracking, orbit determination, navigation, guidance and so on. Apart from this, the mission is unique because we are trying to map the entire lunar surface in terms of its terrain features and mineralogical content. We hope to provide a lot of inputs to the scientific community on the various aspects of the moon, on its origin and then in turn to throw light on the origin of the earth itself.

The moon mission is happening around the same time as the nuclear deal, the economy is also vibrant? Are there linkages between the three? Has India truly and finally arrived?

We have established ourselves in both atomic energy and space. Today we are treated in par by the developed nations in these areas. It is time to give a major thrust to the future developments in this area and maintain a leadership position. Our economic growth and vibrancy is going to help us in this. We are spending hardly 0.5 per cent of our national budget on our scientific programmes, if this could be increased it will help us emerge as world leaders in many other areas of science and technology too. The overall national income is also going up and this will definitely help us in many ways.

ISRO has been a great and transparent institution. It has delivered one success after another. Does our political establishment appreciate this?

At all times, all governments have been very supportive of the space programme for chiefly two reasons: Firstly because it is a hi-tech area. Secondly, we are able to provide a wide range of services to the country. Take for instance agriculture resource management or water resource management or for that matter natural resource management in general -- the quality of inputs that has been coming from our space programme has tremendously increased the productivity and income of large sections of our people. Again, the communication and connectivity that we are providing through our satellites across the length and breadth of the country meets the national needs. Successive governments have been supportive of our work and the fact that in the last few years we have been getting roughly a 20-25 per cent increase in our annual budget is indicative of that support. Most of our budget goes towards meeting national priority needs. We work in a very democratic fashion. Our projects go through an elaborate process of consultation with various government departments and scientists. We have also learnt to deliver our services on time and in a cost effective manner. The fact that more or less the successive prime ministers of India have held the space portfolio has helped us in removing procedural hurdles.

Does Chandrayaan come at an inflection point in ISRO's life? A sort of midlife crisis? Is that why you are moving from societal application to space exploration?

We could be at an inflection point, but what we are spending on Chandrayaan is hardly only three per cent of our budget over the last five years. It is a small fraction. But, the amount of technological advancement we will see as a result of this and the national pride that the mission brings is tremendous. Also, we have to lay the foundation for the future. The exploration of planets whether it is the moon or mars, the exploration of the solar system or the galaxies have become very interesting topics for the scientific community.

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To create a scientific temperament in the nation and create a new generation of space scientists missions like Chandrayaan are needed. We plan to set aside aside 10-15 per cent of our budgets toward advanced R&D both in space science and space technologies. We are actually not moving away from societal application, but only further expanding it. You never know, what we find today may be of use for the next generation. Suppose we are able to find helium three on the moon, and we can commercially exploit that, it will be of great use to our atomic programme.

How do you handle criticism from a section of the people that a poor nation like India shouldn't be wasting money on projects like Chandrayaan?

We have faced this question in the early phase of the programme. We are convinced that we are doing more service to the society than the money spent on the programme. But to doubly assure ourselves, we asked a school of economics in Chennai a couple of years back to make an assessment. The report they submitted was really mind-boggling. They found that what we have given back to the society in terms of products and services is something like one and half times more than the cumulative investment made on the entire space programme. Leave alone the infrastructure, the technology, the human resources and the various laboratories we have developed, if we add all that it is certainly more than five times spent on the programme.

Do you think this is an Asian century? China, Japan and now India are all into lunar missions?

I think it is correct in a way. Though these countries are underdeveloped in some areas they have given enough importance to scientific development. What you are seeing in terms of space exploration is a culmination of that. China and Japan have not only sent lunar missions but also have very ambitious plans for planetary exploration.

How do you compare India with China?

Compared to China we are better off in many areas. For example our communication satellites are world class. Chinese still depend on some foreign companies to supply some components. On launchers, we have very advanced capability. As far as manned-mission is concerned we are lagging behind, but that was a conscious decision on our part. Since it involves a lot of funds, in the initial phase of the moon programme we have not given thrust to that area. But given the funds and necessary approvals we can easily catch up with our neighbour in this area.

In the global space industry there was a lean period as far as the moon was concerned, nothing happened for decades, but why the sudden interest now?

For two reasons. One is the prospects of minerals which could be exploited and the second is that if you want to get into inter-planetary travel or go beyond the solar system, we need an intermediary base. Instead of having an artificial system like a space station, if we have a base in moon it may help us. That is the kind of future vision that space agencies are developing.

When will India put a man on moon?

We have a dream to put a man on moon with our own vehicle system by 2015.

Other planetary explorations?

About Mars we have given some thought. We can have a spacecraft going to the planet by 2012. But we are still looking for good scientific ideas on inter-planetary missions.

Personally for you what is it that is very significant about this moon mission?

Basically the technical challenges. We decided to put the deep space tracking network on our own. We developed it indigenously through ECIL and BARC. It was a major decision and I am happy that we now have a really world class facility.


You were travelling abroad with the PM recently, what were people in other countries asking you about the moon mission?

People are very much looking forward to the success of this mission for different reasons. First of all, a country like India is doing this. Secondly, it is seen as a fine example of international co-operation in space exploration. We have instruments from the US and Europe flying on board along with our instruments. Our scientists and scientists from these two continents are working together. No other country has had technological co-operation to the extent that we have had in the context of our moon mission.

Is the moon mission also about attracting young talent to ISRO?

Young, bright scientists can be attracted only by technology challenges. Money is a factor that counts but more than that it is technology challenges that are important. We have full clarity about what ISRO should be doing for the next 20 years. There are a lot of fascinating things that we intent to pursue. Our vision plan will put forward a big bouquet of technology challenges and these challenges I hope will attract young talent. It is very difficult to get young talent, but the fact that attrition rate at ISRO is less than 10 per cent shows that money is not the only factor for people who have joined us and are wanting to join us. In IT industries where they pay hefty packets, they talk of an attrition rate of 25 to 30 per cent. I don't mean to say that scientists need not be remunerated well. We have taken up these issues with the government and we are very positive about getting a better package. To train young scientists we have also started the Indian Institute of Space Technology, which is a unique institution in the world. We take in youngsters at plus two level and after four years of education they are guaranteed a job in ISRO. This specialised education will bring the best talent to work with us in the future.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Astrologers to astronomers: Oct 22 good day for moon mission launch

There are astrologers among the astronomers in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) too. They have declared that the day set for the country’s first moon mission, Oct 22, will be aupicious.Seven years ago, on Oct 22, 2001, ISRO had successfully launched a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C3) carrying three satellites - one of its own and two from overseas.

The Indian satellite was the 1,108 kg Technology Experiment Satellite and its co-passengers were Bird from Germany weighing 92 kg and the Belgian satellite Proba that weighed 94 kg.

That was the second time ISRO had launched three satellites in one flight. The earlier occasion was in 1999 when PSLV-C2 slung the 1,050-kg Indian Remote Sensing satellite IRS P4, DLR-Tubsat (45 kg) of Germany and South Korean satellite Kitsat weighing 110 kg.

ISRO officials have been making a replica of every rocket they fly and placing it at the feet of Lord Balaji at the Hindu holy city of Tirupati a day before every launch. Tirupati is close to the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, the launch site.

India’s lunar mission Chandrayaan will be ISRO’s 27th launch and PSLV’s 14th flight.

Chandrayaan-1 ISRO - India's Moon Mission Animation by Thejes

Video at

Chandrayaan-I mated with rocket for launch on 22 October

Taking a vital step closer to the launch of India's maiden unmanned mission to the moon, the Chandrayaan-1 lunar spacecraft has been mated with the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) that will carry it to its orbit 100 kilometres above the moon's surface, after blasting off from the Sriharikota spaceport on 22 October.

ISRO officials have reported satisfactory progress of the project as they move towards the final countdown. Barring a cyclone threat or adverse weather, the PSLV-C11 is set to keep its date with India's pioneering lunar mission that is set to blast off on the country's historic mission on 22 October at 6.20 am.

In Bangalore, ISRO spokesperson S Satish said that the heat-shield closing operations around the spacecraft have been completed, and the integrated test of the home-grown launch vehicle PSLV-C11 is progressing satisfactorily for launch on 22 October at 0620 hours. He said the 52-hour countdown for the blast-off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, 100 kilometres from Chennai is expected to start in the early hours of 20 October.

In the next stage, the 1,300 kilogramme spacecraft would be moved to the launch pad, which will be done sometime before tomorrow morning, according to the centre's associate director Dr M Y S Prasad. He said a series of tests would be conducted prior to the launch.

India's 32 m antenna to track moon mission inaugurated

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Friday inaugurated its 32 metre deep space network (DSN) antenna at Byalalu, 40 kms from Bangalore, which will track the country's first unmanned lunar mission scheduled to be launched on October 22.

The antenna will track the mission and relay data to the Indian Space Science Data Centre (ISSDC) set up in Bangalore.

"As a part of DSN, this antenna will provide telemetry, command and science data reception from the 11 payloads functions for all space mission. It will go on to provide services to any satellite, may it be Indian or foreign," said the chairman and managing director of Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) K S Rajashekhara Rao.
The antenna was commissioned by the ECIL.
The 32-metre antenna, the first of its kind in India, was launched by ISRO chairman and secretary for department of space, G Madhavan Nair.

The antenna which has a life of 20 years, will begin tracking the chandrayaan-I satellite after six hours of the launch when it comes into the transferable orbit between the earth and moon.

The steerable 300-ton structure has the 32 meter diameterparabolic main reflector in cassegrain configuration. The reflector is illuminated by a series of precision machined mirrors arranged in beam waveguide make-up. "The antenna which can track satellites up to a few million kilometres that is beyond the solar system can be upgraded for deeper space missions," Rao said.

The system installed in the outskirts of Bangalore will however not affect the life at the village with the radio frequency waves. "When any RF wave coming below an angle of 5o the antenna switches off to avoid any damage to the life around," said Y S Mayya, director (technical) of ECIL.

India is the fourth country to have a DSN facility after the US, Russia and France.

India's first Moon mission - FAQs

?  What is Chandrayaan-1?

Chandrayaan-1 is a scientific investigation -- by spacecraft -- of the Moon. The name Chandrayaan means Chandra (Moon), Yaan (vehicle). Chandrayaan-1 is the first Indian planetary science and exploration mission.

?  When, and from where, Chandrayaan-1 will be launched?

Chandrayaan-1 will be launched on October 22, 2008 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota (SHAR).

?  How long will it take Chandrayaan-1 to get to Moon?

It will take about 5 days for Chandrayaan-1 to get to the Moon.

?  How close to Moon will Chandrayaan-1 come while orbiting the Moon?

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft will be in a 100 km polar orbit around the Moon.

?  What are Chandrayaan' s scientific goals?

The Chandrayaan-1 mission is aimed at high-resolution remote sensing of the Lunar surface in visible, near Infrared, low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions.

Specific scientific goals are:
To prepare a three-dimensional atlas (with a high spatial and altitude resolution of 5-10m) of both near and far side of the moon.
To conduct chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface for distribution of elements such as Magnesium, Aluminum, Silicon, Calcium, Iron and Titanium with a spatial resolution of about 20 km and high atomic number elements such as Radon, Uranium & Thorium with a spatial resolution of about 40 km.

By simultaneous photo geological and chemical mapping we will be able to identify different geological units, which will test the hypothesis for the origin and early evolutionary history of the moon and help in determining the nature of the lunar crust.

What are the basic components of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft?

The basic components of the chandrayaan-1 spacecraft are:
The scientific payloads: the instruments that will gather science data.
The solar array that provides power to the spacecraft. Chandrayaan also carries a battery that stores the power generated by the solar array and feeds it to other systems.
The thrusters perform fuel burns to change the spacecraft's trajectory and attitude.
The various functional requirements of the spacecraft such as Attitude and Orbit Control, Command processing, House keeping telemetry, Sensor data processing, Thermal management, payload data handling operation, duel gimbaled data transmission antenna pointing, onboard mission management etc would be taken care by the Bus Management Unit (BMU).
The spacecraft also carries two star sensors and inertial reference unit based on miniaturized gyros providing absolute attitude.

?  What are the scientific instruments onboard Chandrayaan-1?

There are altogether eleven scientific instruments onboard Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Five of them are Indian and other six are from European Space Agency (3), NASA (2) and Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1) selected through ISRO Announcement of Opportunity (AO). Two of the ESA instruments have Indian collaboration.

?  What type of propulsion system will Chandrayaan-1 use? How much propellant will it carry?

Chandrayaan-1 will use bipropellant integrated propulsion system. The propulsion system consists of a unified bi-propellant system for orbit raising and attitude control.

It consists of one 440N engine and eight numbers of 22N thrusters, mounted on the negative roll face of the spacecraft. Two tanks each with a capacity of 390 liter are used for storing fuel and oxidizer.

?  How will mission controllers communicate with the spacecraft?

If the spacecraft encounters a problem, it can establish contact with controllers on Earth through the Deep Space Network.

?  Can the team fix the spacecraft from Earth?

If a component on the spacecraft fails, controllers on Earth can instruct Chandrayaan to bring a backup online. If the spacecraft points in the wrong direction, its attitude can be corrected. If the spacecraft deviates from the desired trajectory, a controlled burn (thruster firing) can be performed to put it back on track.

Most minor problems can be corrected from Earth with existing onboard instruction systems.

?  How is the spacecraft powered?

The spacecraft is mainly powered by its solar array, which includes one solar panel covering a total area of 2.15 X 1.8 square meters, generating 700W power. The panels are made of materials rated to withstand extreme temperatures -- 119 degree C to minus 165 degree C.

The power produced by the solar array is stored in a Lithium-ion battery, and then distributed from the battery to the spacecraft subsystems. The power system is designed to support various phases of the mission. The power will supplement the mission with equal efficiency in both noon/midnight and dawn/dusk orbits.

The power system consists of power generation, energy storage and power conditioning elements. 36AH Li-Ion battery powers the spacecraft during orbital and lunar eclipses. Power electronics system controls the solar array power to supply the load and charge the batteries.

?  What is the total budget for realising Chandrayaan-1 mission?

The budgetary estimate for realising the proposed Indian lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 stands at Rs. 386 crore (about $76 million). This includes Rs 53 crore (about $11 million) for Payload development, Rs. 83 crore (about $17 million) for Spacecraft Bus, Rs 100 crore ($20 million) towards establishment of Deep Space Network, Rs 100 crore ($20 million) for PSLV launch vehicle and Rs 50 crore ($10 million) for scientific data centre, external network support and programme management expenses.

What other missions are scheduled to study Moon?

The first leap in Lunar observation was made by Galileo Galilei who used his new invention the telescope to observe mountains and craters on the lunar surface.

The first man-made object to reach the Moon was the unmanned Soviet probe Luna 2 in September 1959. Luna 9 was the first probe to soft land on the Moon in February 1966 and transmit pictures from the Lunar surface.

The first robotic lunar rover to land on the Moon was the Soviet Lunokhod 1 in November 1970.

Humans first landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. The first man to walk on the lunar surface was Neil Armstrong, commander of the American mission Apollo 11. The last man to walk on the Moon was in December 1972 by Eugene Cernan during Apollo 17 mission.

Moon samples have been brought back to Earth by three Russian Luna missions (16, 20, and 24) and the US Apollo missions 11, 12 and 14 through 17.

The European Space Agency has launched European spacecraft Smart1 on September 27 2003 to explore the Moon, survey the lunar environment and create an X-ray map of the Moon.

Japan has two planned lunar missions, LUNAR-A and Selene.

India plans to launch a lunar orbiter for simultanious chemical and mineralogical study of the lunar surface. The People's Republic of China has also expressed ambitious plans for exploring the Moon (Change series).

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) of USA is designed to map the surface of the Moon and characterize future landing sites in terms of terrain roughness, usable resources, and radiation environment with the ultimate goal of facilitating the return of humans to the Moon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moonstruck: What Will India's Lunar Mission Achieve?

In India as in other countries, the Muslim faithful wait for a glimpse of the moon to start their Eid al-Fitr celebrations. At the end of October, it will be the country's scientific community looking moonward. During a narrow temporal window beginning October 22, the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh plans to launch the Chandrayaan-I, the country's first moon mission. ("Chandrayaan" means "trip to the moon" in Hindi.) If the weather plays spoilsport, the launch could be postponed until December.

Critics of the country's space program would prefer that the unmanned launch be postponed indefinitely. Their complaints? First, that India is just reinventing the wheel: The moon mission proposes to do what other countries already have done. Second, that India is a poor country. Aren't there many other ways to put the funding the launch requires -- Rs. 386 crore (US$80 million) -- to better use?

"The kind of money involved in a moon mission is very high compared to the benefits," says Vasant Natarajan, associate professor in the physics department at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. "I think this money could be better spent on other things." India is generally viewed "as a Third World, poverty-stricken country," he notes. "If India puts a spacecraft into orbit [the perception will be] that India can do all this high-tech stuff but cannot provide its citizens with even basic necessities, and that there are people dying on the streets. This image is not going to change because of the moon mission."

The negative voices are every bit as strident abroad. According to The Times of London, "Critics say it is a waste of money for a country where 800 million out of a population of 1.1 billion live on less than US$2 a day, and where child malnutrition is on a par with that of sub-Saharan Africa."

"It's unquestionably true that India faces other tremendously important public policy challenges," says Jeremy Tobacman, Wharton professor of business and public policy who conducts research on the Indian agricultural sector, behavioral economics and development. "This might not be the best priority for India now."

Delhi's political class and parts of the establishment directly involved in the space effort conversely say that the moon mission is testimony to India's scientific prowess, and that some of the benefits will be immediate. The news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) quotes an unnamed Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) official as saying: "With China forging ahead in the space field, India cannot lag behind and miss the bus. Moreover, some kind of colonization of the moon cannot be ruled out in the coming decades. We have to have our presence."

But there is more to all this than chest thumping. "[The launch] will help India move a few notches up in the pecking order of nations," says Delhi-based political commentator Sumit Mitra. "It may be an indirect gain, but it is important considering that in the next 20 to 25 years we plan to sit at the high table with the big powers."

Since 1974, when it carried out a nuclear test at Pokhran, India has been a pariah in high-tech cooperation, particularly in areas such as space that could be used for missile technology. But Tobacman notes that international cooperation is a key ingredient in space research. "Most of the U.S. manned space program is focused on the international space station, which is a multinational collaboration, particularly with Russia," he says.

India's planned moon mission includes payloads (additional instruments) from other international space agencies, Tobacman notes. "Presumably, international space agencies are also contributing funding to accomplish this mission and it is achieving many of the objectives of international cooperation in space research."

History Revisited

Mitra cares little about the temporary glory that will come with sending a rocket to the moon. Rather, he talks about opportunity cost, and about India having missed out too often. "I think it is good that India is coming out of its centuries of technological backwardness and taking part in an international lunar mission.... It will be suicidal if we remain indifferent to explorations and pass up another opportunity."

Though the technology for the mission is Indian, several nations have been involved. The proposal first arose in a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1999, according to ISRO. A national lunar mission task force was constituted a few years later, and the Union government approved the project in November 2003. In July 2005, ISRO and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed an agreement to include European instruments onboard. In May 2006, a similar agreement was reached with NASA. Chandrayaan will carry as many as 11 payloads -- five from India, three from the ESA, one from the Bulgarian Space Agency and two from NASA.

"This will be our first step toward a manned mission to the moon," Chandrayaan project chief M. Annadurai told the Business Standard recently. According to a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, "The mission can serve as a test-bed for future missions that could be undertaken by India to explore the outer world in the new millennium, thus providing challenging opportunities to the younger generation of scientists."

In layman's terms, according to ISRO, the Chandrayaan mission is aimed at high-resolution remote sensing of the moon. The specific scientific objectives are to "prepare a three-dimensional atlas of both the near and the far side of the moon" and "to conduct chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface for distribution of elements."

The 1,304-kilogram spacecraft will be launched by ISRO's highly successful polar satellite launch vehicle. By the time it reaches its 100-kilometer polar orbit of the moon, which it is scheduled to maintain for two years, the weight will have come down to 590 kilograms. The NASA contribution to the payload includes the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center, and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper from Brown University and the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A Race to Space?

All this may not mean much to the man on the street in Mumbai. But a question keeps surfacing: Is India being needlessly drawn into a space race?

If a space race indeed is occurring, China is far ahead of other Asian countries. Its first satellite, Dongfanghong-I, was launched in April 1970. China's entry into manned space flight was heralded by the unmanned Shenzhou-1 in November 1999. Shenzhou-5 in October 2003 sent an astronaut into space for more than 21 hours. In 2007, the country celebrated its first space walk.

China's moon focus began with the successful launch in October 2007 of the lunar orbiter Chang'e-1. Its objectives are to map the moon and probe for useful elements. Its lifespan is more than a year. The China National Space Administration has also announced plans to send robotic explorers to the moon by 2020 and manned missions a few years later. But with NASA's US$100 billion proposal to get back to the moon by 2018, the Chinese effort could speed up. In September, NASA officials unveiled the latest designs for the Ares V rocket and Altair moon lander in Washington, D.C. These are part of a larger Mars project, where the moon program is being used as a stress test.

Japan got off the starting block earlier, and then apparently lost drive. It launched the Oshumi-1 satellite in 1970. In the 1990s, its H2 rocket didn't perform to expectations. That and China's growing achievements led to the reorganization of Japan's space bodies. In October 2003, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, the National Aerospace Laboratory and the National Space Development Agency were merged into JAXA -- the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

JAXA has delivered. Kaguya, the Selenological and Engineering Explorer, was launched in September 2007 and is in a polar orbit of the moon. Its objectives, which may sound familiar, are: "To obtain scientific data of the lunar origin and evolution and to develop the technology for future lunar exploration." JAXA plans its first manned mission to the moon in 2020.

Even smaller South Korea has ambitions. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute has been working with the Russians for satellite launch technology. It, too, has a moon mission slated for 2020. The objective: the "launch of a satellite for moon exploration by a Korean-developed launch vehicle."

Earthly Benefits

Everyone seems to be headed for the moon. Why not? asks Mitra. "Even if there is a 'space race' in Asia, it is good for all the participants, provided it does not turn into a race for obtaining Star Wars weapons," he says. "Man's knowledge of the world increased phenomenally because of the 'sea race' between Arabs and Europeans in the previous millennium."

ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair, however, disagrees that a space race exists. "Our priorities have been in providing societal services, based on our space assets," he told the news agency PTI recently. "We have been concentrating on earth observation and communication areas. Launch vehicles which are appropriate for these missions have been developed. We have developed technologies and systems required for national development. Now, since we have some breathing time, we are concentrating on planetary exploration and activities that are supposed to be taken up the next decade. In that context, we are taking up the proposals for the manned mission."

The U.K.-based New Scientist, a leading science and technology news magazine, framed the objectives in a 2005 article: "But why is India, a country that still has so many development problems on the ground, aiming for the heavens? To Indian scientists, the question is not only patronizing of their scientific aspirations, it betrays an ignorance of the Indian space program's greater purpose and successes against the odds.... Take, for example, India's six remote-sensing satellites -- the largest such constellation in the world. These monitor the country's land and coastal waters so that scientists can advise rural communities on the location of aquifers and where to find watercourses, suggest to fishermen when to set sail for the best catch, and warn coastal communities of imminent storms. India's seven communication satellites, the biggest civilian system in the Asia-Pacific region, now reach some of the remotest corners of the country, providing television coverage to 90% of the population. The system is also being used to extend remote health-care services and education to the rural poor."

Natarajan, of the Indian Institute of Science, agrees that the mission could produce such "earthly" benefits. "But the cost-benefit equation needs to be clear," he says.

A quantitative cost-benefit analysis may not be possible where social goals are involved. But India's space program has a commercial end, too. ISRO's marketing arm is Antrix Corp., a registered for-profit company. Antrix has been involved in commercial launches since May 1999, when it successfully sent into space Korean and German satellites as piggyback payloads onboard the polar satellite launch vehicle PSLV-C2. (Chandrayaan is being launched on PSLV-C11.) Antrix offers a range of products and services including Indian remote sensing hardware and software, transponder leasing, launch services, mission support, ground systems, spacecraft testing, and training and consultancy.

Sending up a satellite through Antrix and ISRO is much cheaper than using a U.S., Russian or French launch vehicle. Indians are known for their "frugal engineering." This is one of the reasons that every global automaker that wants to make a cheap car -- following in the footsteps of Tata Motors' Nano -- is setting up shop in India. The frugal engineering also responds to an objection: Is too much money being spent on the space program? "The money being spent on Chandrayaan is insignificant in relation to the gains," says Mitra.

ISRO, too, dismisses criticisms about cost. "The cost of the moon mission is less than US$80 million, which is just 10% of the annual budget of ISRO spread over many years," ISRO spokesman S. Satish told PTI. This cost includes US$20 million for the establishment of the Indian Deep Space Network at Byalalu, near Bangalore, which will also serve future satellites.

In the capital Delhi, meanwhile, there is little advance cheering. One reason could be a number of failures in ISRO's early track record. The celebrations will probably start once the moon is in Chandrayaan's viewfinder.

"There is not much excitement in the capital's media because the moon, as a target for exploration, is generally regarded as old hat," says Mitra. "But it is not correct that the political class has overlooked the importance of India participating in the lunar missions. Chandrayaan-ll has recently received the Union Cabinet's sanction."

In September, a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved a budget of Rs. 425 crore (US$88 million) for a Chandrayaan-II Indo-Russian joint project, which aims to land a rover on the moon. The principal objective of the mission is "in situ chemical analysis and resource exploration." That should be in 2011-2012. A Mars mission is planned for 2013 and a manned space mission by 2014.

Chandrayaan – 1: To the moon, and beyond

22 October would be a date that should effectively be etched in every Indian's memory, for on this date India's first mission to the moon, an unmanned one, would lift off from the Earth carrying with it 11 payloads of various scientific instruments with independent objectives - from mapping the lunar surface to conducting chemical and mineralogical mapping.

Chandrayaan-1 is scheduled to take off from Sriharikota at 6.20 am on 22 October - weather gods permitting. In case of unfavourable weather conditions the launch would be postponed to 23 October with the launch window remaining open till 26 October. Rain, thunder, lightning and cyclonic conditions would put the launch on hold since these pose significant risks to electronic circuits aboard the rocket and the spacecraft.

The four stages of the rocket have been completed. A regular PSLV has six strap-on motors attached to the first stage of the rocket that use nine tonnes of solid propellants.

However, for the rocket carrying Chandrayaan-1, the length of the strap-on motors has been extended from the standard 10 metres to 13.5 metres, with each using 12 tonnes of propellants. Not surprisingly, this particular PSLV, adapted specifically for the moon mission, has been designated "PSLV-XL".

How is it built? What does it have on board?
At launch the spacecraft will weigh 1,304 kilograms. However, when it reaches lunar orbit after traversing almost 386,000 kilometres from the earth, it would have lost all the weight of the propellants it burnt during its five and a half day journey, and would weigh less than half its launch weight at 590 kilograms. Its payloads collectively weigh 80 kilograms, of which 29 kilograms is that of the Moon Impact Probe (MIP).

Powered through a single solar array, Chandrayaan-1 will spend two years encircling the moon. Each revolution would be completed in 117 minutes, at an altitude of 100 kilometres above the moon's surface. Chandrayaan-1 will generate power through its canted single-sided solar array, using light-sensitive cells in its solar panels to generate 700 watts of power during peak period. During an eclipse, it will be powered by lithium batteries.

Mission director George Koshy says Chandrayan-1 will stay in its lunar orbit for two years, though it would be able to assimilate all targeted data within a year or and a half or so.

ISRO would have about half a year of spare lunar orbit time from Chandrayaan-1.

Chandrayaan-1 is has onboard thrusters that will alter its trajectory as needed. It has an inertial measurement unit that includes accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure the attitude. Three solid-state recorders aboard the spacecraft will record data from various payloads.

The rim of the Shackleton crater: location, location, location

The Chandrayaan-1 mission will focus on exploration of the South Pole, with the moon impact probe hitting the rim of the Shackleton crater of the moon at the South Pole sometime in mid-November.

The rim of the Shackleton crater is a location on the lunar surface that has been identified by US space agency NASA as the spot to establish a possible lunar outpost sometime around 2020.

The location at the rim of the Shackleton crater has strategic advantages. That specific place on the lunar surface has sunlight available around 90 per cent of the time, translating directly into abundant solar energy for power generation. Secondly, it is close to the Malapert Mountain, a 5-km high mountain that has a direct view of both the lunar South Pole and the earth, an ideal location for a radio relay station. Moreover, the sunlit areas of the pole and its surroundings make for moderate temperatures.

The US Defence Department's Clementine Orbiter and NASA's Lunar Prospector had indicated the presence of water in the form of ice in the lunar craters. The location also heightens the possibility of finding water in the dark areas of the pole.

ISRO, in collaboration with the US and Germany, may well be able to confirm the presence of water by sometime next year when data from instruments on board Chandrayaan-1 is analysed. If detected, water on the moon would open up ways for producing drinking water, oxygen and hydrogen fuel for bases on the moon and for rockets for future missions.

Satish Dhawan Space Centre associate director MYS Prasad says that of the 11 payloads on Chandraayan-1, four would work to detect water – the miniature synthetic aperture radar and the moon mineralogy mapper from the US, near infrared spectrometer from Germany, and India's hyper spectral imaging camera. The synthetic aperture radar is capable of detecting ice in the permanently shadowed regions on the lunar poles, up to a depth of a few metres.

Five of the 11 payloads have been developed with Indian contribution, with the European Space Agency having designed three, United States two, and Bulgaria one instrument respectively. These are:

Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC):
TMC is a CCD camera developed by ISRO that will map the topography of both the near and the far side of the moon. It will prepare a three dimensional atlas with high spatial and altitude resolution that will aid the understanding of the lunar evolution process as well identify regions for detailed study.

Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI):
HySI is a CCD camera that is again developed by ISRO. It will obtain spectroscopic data for mineralogical mapping of the lunar surface, and will better existing data. It will study the mineralogical composition in deep crater regions of moon's interior.

Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI):
This ISRO-developed payload will provide data for determining the accurate height of lunar surface features, and will also help in determining the global topographical field of the moon. Additionally, it will also generate an improved model for the lunar gravity field.

High Energy X-ray Spectrometer (HEX):
The ISRO-developed High-Energy X-ray spectrometer is designed to explore the possibility of exploring the moon's polar region that are supposed to be covered with thick water and ice deposits. Primarily, it is designed to study and identify regions of thorium and uranium deposits.

Moon Impact Probe (MIP):
An Indian payload that was initiated at the instance of former President APJ Abdul Kalam, this is the probe that will actually crash-land on the moon, and will demonstrate technologies needed to land a probe at a desired location on the lunar surface. The MIP will also qualify technologies needed for future soft landing missions, and will explore the moon from close range. This module too has been developed by ISRO.

Crash Land plan
Once Chandrayaan-1 reaches a lunar orbit at an altitude of 100 kilometres, ISRO will issue commands to re-orient and eject the MIP, which has an onboard motor that will fire for two seconds to slow the MIP's descent velocity to 75 metres per second. During its descent to the lunar surface, the MIP will activate its video-camera which will capture images of the lunar surface that will be instrumental in ISRO's decision to pick a suitable landing site for Chandrayaan-2's rover.

The MIP's altimeter will measure its altitude from the Moon's surface every second, while a third instrument, the mass spectrometer, will sense the moon's atmospheric constituents as it free falls to the lunar surface. All data would be transmitted to Chandrayaan-1 till the MIP crash-lands on the moon, which in turn would be beamed back to earth.

Chandrayaan-1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS):
Chandrayaan-1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS) is a fructification of the European Space Agency in collaboration with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK and the ISRO Satellite Centre. The objective of this instrument is to carry out high quality X-ray spectroscopic mapping of the moon, and a part of this payload has been redesigned by ISRO to suit Chandrayaan-1 scientific objectives.

Smart Near-IR Spectrometer (SIR-2):
SIR-2 has been developed by the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Science, through the Max-Planck Society, Germany and the European Space Agency. Its objective is to analyse in detail the lunar surface in various geological/mineralogical and topographical units.

Radiation Dose Monitor Experiment (RADOM):
The RADOM payload comes from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It will qualitatively and quantitatively characterise the radiation environment in a region of space near the moon, and provide an estimate of the dose map around moon at different altitudes and latitudes.

Sub Kev Atom reflecting Analyser (SARA):
SARA is part of the European Space Agency's contribution to the mission, created in collaboration with the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Sweden and Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, ISRO. This instrument will study the surface composition of the moon, the way the moon's surface reacts with solar winds and the magnetic anomalies associated with the surface of the moon.

Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR):
MiniSAR comes from the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University and Naval Air Warfare Centre, all the way from the US through NASA. This payload aims to detect water ice in the permanently shadowed regions on the lunar poles up to a depth of a few meters. This radar mapper would allow viewing of all permanently shadowed areas on the moon, regardless of whether sunlight is available or whether the angle is unsatisfactory.

Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3):
M3 comes aboard the mission from Brown University and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US through NASA. The spectrometer will assess and map lunar mineral resources at high spatial and spectral resolution to support planning for future, targeted missions, and will also aid in the characterisation and mapping of lunar materials in context of moon's early geological evolution.

Exploring the moon's potential for energy
Speaking to the media, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre's director Dr K Radhakrishnan and the director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, MC Dathan, said India's pioneering lunar mission, four decades subsequent to man's conquest of the moon, will be important for a number of reasons.

One of the foremost reasons, says Radhakrishnan, is the fact that the moon could be a major source of energy for the human race in times to come. Mankind, according to him, is already grappling with questions about alternative energy sources to fulfill the burgeoning demand for energy as a replacement for fast depleting fossil fuel reserves on earth.

Earlier lunar missions had detected the presence of helium in the moon's surface, and there could be future explorations that would work on getting it to earth to harness its properties and process it.

A second reason is that the moon is an intermediary planet that would be a staging area for future explorations. It could also serve as a scientific and technological exercise in man's dream of reaching out to other planets such as Mars.

Chandrayaan-1 is also the first step towards a manned mission to the moon. India plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014, and a manned mission to the moon by 2020.

Waste of money? No way!
The Times reported that critics of India's space programme have billed Chandrayaan-1 as a "waste of money" in a country where 800 million of a total population of 1.1 billion live on less than $2 a day. However, advocates for the programme counter that India has a revenue generating commercial satellite launch operation, and the scientific benefits of the space programme have played a key role in the development of the country's IT industry.

Further, they cite India's seven earth-observation satellites as the largest of its kind globally, even as India's space programme trails its large neighbour's, China. China is the third nation, after the US and the former Soviet Union, to put a man into space aboard its own launch vehicle. Chinese leaders have hailed the space walk by a Chinese 'taikonaut' that was conducted on 27 September as a great victory, even though it came decades after those conducted by the former USSR and the US.

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's views
In a recent interview with the Times of India, former president of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam shared his excitement about the lunar mission, visualising it as a mission to boost space research, and motivating more budding scientists to take up careers in the field.

He said that India has the capability to stand tall in the space exploration domain, with the "capability to build any type of launch vehicle, any type of spacecraft and launch it not only in earth's orbit, but also in the lunar orbit."

Kalam said that the lunar mission would signal India's readiness to be a partner in international space missions, enabling the evolution of the Earth-Moon-Mars complex, which in turn would lead to inter-planetary economic activity and the evolution of an alternative habitat.

Explaining the importance of the lunar mission, Kalam said that as civilisation spreads through the solar system, the moon would provide the main link between the Earth and its "scattered children", becoming a telecommunications hub for inter-planetary communications.

Chandrayaan-2: Planned Sequel
The Moon Impact Probe (MIP), the 29-kilogram payload, would be the first object left behind by India on another celestial body, and is painted with the colours of the Indian national flag. Built by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, the MIP is actually a technological forerunner to India's Chandrayaan-2 mission that will aim to deploy a Russian-built lander or a rover on the Moon.

ISRO signed up with Russian federal space agency Roskosmos last November for a joint lunar mission for Chandrayaan-2. As part of the agreement, ISRO will build the mother-spacecraft, while Roskosmos will build the lander/rover that will detach from Chandrayaan-2 and land on the moon.

The Chandrayaan-2 rover will move around on the lunar surface, analysing soil samples and sending data about its chemical analysis to Earth. Chandrayaan-2 would head for the moon sometime around 2011-12 aboard an Indian Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

About the spacecraft

The Spacecraft for the lunar mission is cuboid in shape of approximately 1.50 m side. It weighs 1304 kg at launch and 590 kg at lunar orbit and accommodates eleven science payloads.

It is a 3-axis stabilized spacecraft using two star sensors, gyros and four reaction wheels.

The power generation would be through a canted single-sided solar array to provide required power during all phases of the mission. This deployable solar array consisting of a single panel generates 700W of peak power. Solar array along with yoke would be stowed on the south deck of the spacecraft in the launch phase. During eclipse spacecraft will be powered by Lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries.

After deployment the solar panel plane is canted by 30 to the spacecraft pitch axis.

The spacecraft employs a X-band, 0.7m diameter parabolic antenna for payload data transmission. The antenna employs a dual gimbal mechanism to track the earth station when the spacecraft is in lunar orbit.

The spacecraft uses a bipropellant integrated propulsion system to reach lunar orbit as well as orbit and attitude maintenance while orbiting the moon.

The propulsion system carries required propellant for a mission life of 2 years, with adequate margin. The Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TTC) communication is in S-band frequency. The scientific payload data transmission is in X-band frequency.

The spacecraft has three Solid State Recorders (SSRs) on board to record data from various payloads.

SSR-1 will store science payload data and has capability of storing 32Gb data.

SSR-2 will store science payload data along with spacecraft attitude information (gyro and star sensor), satellite house keeping and other auxiliary data. The storing capacity of SSR-2 is 8Gb.

M3 (Moon Mineralogy Mapper) payload has an independent SSR with 10Gb capacity.

The launch vehicle

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) built its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in the early 90s.

The 45 m tall PSLV with a lift-off mass of 295 tonne, had its maiden success on October 15, 1994 when it launched India's IRS-P2 remote sensing satellite into a Polar Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) of 820 km.

Between 1996 and 2005, it has launched six more Indian Remote Sensing satellites as well as HAMSAT, a micro satellite built by ISRO for amateur radio communications into polar SSOs, one Indian meteorological satellite into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

During this period, PSLV has also launched four satellites from abroad (TUBSAT and DLR-Bird from Germany, Proba from Belgium and KITSAT from Republic of Korea) as piggyback payloads into polar SSOs.

Thus, PSLV has emerged as ISRO's workhorse launch vehicle and proved its reliability and versatility by scoring eight consecutive successes between 1994-2005 periods in launching multiple payloads to both SSO as well as GTO.

Chandrayaan to look for water on moon

Is there water on the moon? India's lunar explorer, Chandrayaan-1, will try to find out by peeking into the moon's dark corners and sending an American probe to dig there.

When Chandrayaan heads for the moon October 22, it will carry on board a 6.5-kg mini synthetic aperture radar (MiniSAR) developed by the Johns Hopkins University applied physics laboratory and the Naval Air Warfare Centre.

It will look for water-ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar poles by digging a few metres into the surface.

Although lunar samples brought back by previous missions show the moon to be pretty dry, recent discoveries suggest water-ice may exist in its polar regions.

The lunar poles contain areas that are permanently dark, creating cold traps or zones that, because the sun never shines on them, may be as cold as 50-70 Kelvin (about minus 223 to minus 203 Celsius).

"Cometary debris and meteorites containing water-bearing minerals constantly bombard moon," M. Annadurai, the mission's project director said.

"Though most of this water is lost to space, if a water molecule finds its way into a cold trap, it should remain as no physical process is known till date that can remove it. Over geological time, significant quantities of water could accumulate."

An Indian-made device, a high energy x-ray spectrometer (HEX), will explore the moon's polar regions (north-south) that could be covered by thick water-ice deposits.

Chandrayaan Mission: The Other Side

With the country gearing up for the Chandrayaan mission, there is one ISRO official who wishes he has no work to do on the launch date. While all other in his office are planning meticulously for the D-day, S Krishnamurthy can only pray their planning goes right and the PSLV stays on track when it starts its 3,00,000 km journey on October 22.

S. Krishnamurthy happens to hold the sonically unexciting position of "General Manager, Safety". Now, being a General Manger at any other office would be mundane stuff. Signing papers and meetings. However, we're talking about the ISRO here and trust me, it's not just another "run of the mill" office.

Mr. Krishnamurthy and his team, located at a distance from the actual launch site will be monitoring the path of the PSLV once it starts its journey and their job is to keep a watch on it. He is the only official in the entire ISRO to have the right to destroy the rocket in case the launch fails or if the rocket veers off its intended path, thereby endangering lives and property.

With as many as four radars keeping track of the PSLV with minute details about the state of the rocket once it is up, Krishnamurthy will be amongst the first to notice if anything is about to go awry. In fact, his team will continuously calculate the Instantaneous Impact Point (IIP), which happens to be the area where the debris will eventually fall in case of something going terribly wrong.

It is a job many dread to do. It was in July 2006 when Krishnamurthy last pressed the "destroy" button. The GSLV F02 was launched and within seconds, it veered from the path and it had to be destroyed in mid air after 45 seconds into the flight. The 414 tonne rocket was then seen disintegrating in mid air with huge debris falling in to the Bay of Bengal.

Even this time, extreme precautions have been taken to deal with any emergencies. Additionally, aircraft have been told to keep a safe distance from the Sriharikota skies on the day of launch.

While it is disturbing to read news about a possible failure, it is important to remember that ISRO is ready for any eventuality. And yes, rocket launches are complex feats of engineering with India possessing a very good safety record. Kudos to the ISRO team who have been behind this and to the people who will ensure the safety of others in case something goes wrong. Let us all hope everything goes as planned and the country successfully completes its first lunar mission in style!