Successful Mars mission helps ISRO end year on high note
The successful launch of India's first inter-planetary Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the sending up of India's first navigation satellite midnight, the launch of the Indo-French satellite SARAL, and signing up a couple of satellite launch contracts - all these put Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2013 amongst the select group of space-faring nations on a couple of counts.
The year also saw ISRO deciding to embrace social media like Facebook and Twitter in a major way after tasting success during MOM, and the DMK party making a forceful demand to set up the second rocket launch site in Tamil Nadu.
Fate was kind with ISRO as it was able to avoid a launch disaster by aborting the flight of its heavier rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) hours before the blastoff as one of its fuel tanks started leaking in August.
ISRO is likely to open 2014 by flying the aborted GSLV rocket, powered by India's own cryogenic engine, to put into orbit communication satellite GSAT-14.
The high point for ISRO came towards the fag end of the year with the successful launch of its Rs.450-crore MOM in November in a copybook style, using its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL)/rocket.
Subsequently, ISRO also successfully placed the 1,337-kg orbiter in the Mars Transfer Trajectory. The spacecraft carries five scientific instruments - Mars Colour Camera, Methane Sensor, Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, Lyman Alpha Photometer, and Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser.
India's Mars mission has two-fold objective - technological and scientific.
The technological objectives include design and realisation of Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earth-bound manoeuvres, cruise phase of 300 days, Mars orbit insertion/capture, and on-orbit phase around Mars.
It will also enable deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management and incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations.
The scientific mission will be to explore the Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere by indigenous scientific instruments.
India became the first Asian country and the fourth nation in the world to leap into the inter-planetary space with its mission to Mars, about 400 million km (250 million miles) from earth.
So far, only Russia, the US and the European Space Agency (ESA) have undertaken such missions to Mars.
One of the notable aspects of India's Mars mission is that the idea was conceived and executed in 15 months on a shoe-string budget.
Interestingly, the US also launched another Mars mission MAVEN after India.
ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan told IANS the American Atlas V rocket has a payload capacity of 13 tonnes (13,000 kg) to GTO (geo-transfer orbit) while the PSLV-XL capacity is only around 1,300 kg.
"The American satellite, weighing around 2,500 kg, carries around 65 kg payload and about 1,600 kg fuel. Our Orbiter weighing around 1,350 kg has a payload of just 15 kg and fuel of around 850 kg," he added.
What he did not compare is the cost incurred in both the missions. While India will be spending around $72 million, the US budget is $671 million.
In 2013, ISRO launched satellites comprising its own and also others for a fee.
ISRO began its rocket-satellite launches in February placing in orbit seven satellites - the Indo-French satellite SARAL, the world's first smart phone-operated nano satellite, a space telescope satellite and four other foreign satellites.
In July, ISRO launched the first of the seven satellites planned under the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) - a regional navigational system developed by India designed to provide accurate position information service to users within the country and up to 1,500 km from the nation's boundary line.
The system is similar to the global positioning system (GPS) of the US, Glonass of Russia, Galileo of Europe, China's Beidou or the Japanese Quasi Zenith Satellite System.
July saw the launch of weather satellite INSAT-3D by Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.
In September, ISRO launched the country's first "military"/communication satellite GSAT-7 by Ariance-5 rocket to improve maritime communications among the Indian Navy's warships.
On the contracts for launch of foreign satellites, Radhakrishnan said the space agency would soon launch German, French, British and Canadian satellites.
He said ISRO would launch EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Programme) satellite belonging to Germany. This apart, ISRO will be launching French satellite SPOT-7 during the first quarter of 2014.
According to him, there will be four more small foreign satellites that would piggy back on SPOT-7.
Radhakrishnan said discussions were held with British agencies for launching three satellites each weighing around 300 kg and also to launch a set of Canadian satellites.
On augmenting ISRO's launch infrastructure, Radhakrishnan said a study is being undertaken on constructing a third launch pad at Sriharikota capable of launching upgraded GSLV Mark III.
ISRO has decided to construct a new rocket assembly building in order to increase the frequency of rocket/satellite launches and use the existing two launch pads effectively.
At present, ISRO has two rocket assembly facilities and two launch pads at its Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
It needs over a month's time to ready a launch pad after each rocket blast-off.
During the 12th Plan Period (2012-17), the Indian space agency has planned 58 missions for realisation -- 33 satellite missions and 25 launch vehicle missions (17 PSLV, six GSLV Mark II missions and two GSLV Mark III, including the experimental one).
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 24-12-2013)