Friday, November 14, 2008

Indian flag touches the moon - Chandrayan special

If there is a good classic example to demonstrate that India is a land of extremities, then it is the successful moon launch - Chandrayan.

In a country which stands 50th in Global competitive index, 66th in hunger index, 83rd in corruption index, a successful space odyssey to the moon still appeared a dream. We today are the 4th country in the world to put a flag on the moon and 6th to have launched a moon mission. We also are the 6th country in the world to go nuclear. Today, India matches China in nuclear warhead capability (although China is slightly ahead of us - India possesses 140 while China 160).

No one could have expected such an engineering feat from an Indian government organization (ISRO) in a short span. Program conceived : 2003 Program accomplished: 2008

"India can achieve anything. It sure is a proud moment for us." - An elated Madhavan Nair (ISRO chief)
"With a minuscule budget of Rs.386 cr(lowest ever moon mission), we have shown that we have mastered the cutting-edge technology in space. Besides, the moon mission motivated the younger generation."

First of all, moon mission was chosen for a lot of reasons. It was not to match China. It was to probe the presence of He-3 on moon which if found and brought back to the Earth could be used power up nuclear plants. Moreover, all moon missions till date have concentrated on one or more areas of the moon. There is no comprehensive mapping of moon's surface. It is still unexplored. No one really has done an extensive study of minerals on the moon and its reaction to solar flares and sunlight. What mineral composition does moon's craters have? Does moon really have water?

"For the first time in the history of India, an Indian-made satellite is circulating the Moon," a jubilant Madhavan Nair told PTI adding "this will be written in the history of Indian space in golden letters".

Secondly, of the 11 payloads that make up the mission, 5 are indigenously developed, 2 are from NASA, 3 from ESA and 1 from Bulgaria. In brief, their functionality is as below:

Even before discussing that it should be noted that to track and communicate with objects beyond the earth's pull, we need Deep Space Antennas. So far, only US and Russia had developed such giant antennae and even China had to rely on them. A few years ago china developed its own with almost 34 m in diameter. India developed its own and is 32 m in diameter and situated in Byalulu (near Bangalore). This itself was an achievement.

Compare: US - 74 m diameter, ESA - 34 m, Russia 64 m and China - 34m. Now, India's is 32m. Moreover, this was developed by Indian companies - 38 domestic companies including state-owned Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), L&T and Godrej & Boyce, and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
Now, the payloads in brief staring with ones made in India..

1)Moon Impact probe (MIP) - Carrying India's flag, a sanskrit shloka embedded on it, is a brainchild of Shri Abdul Kalam. It has a spectrometer and video imaging syatem

2)High energy X-ray Spectrometer - to carry out spectral studies using X-ray energies

3)Terrain mapping (TMC) - one of the best in the world can take near and far pictures of the moon and send 3D maps of high spatial and altitude resolution assisiting in understanding moon's evolution. The TMC makes Chandrayaan the most unique and sophisticated moon mission

4) Hyper Spectral Imagery - mapping lunar surface in 64 contiguous bands.

5) lunar Laser Ranging instrument - will do a morphology of large bases and study properties of lithosphere.

The ones from NASA include - Miniature Synthetic Radar to study the poles and Moon Minerology mapper. The ones from ESA include Sub KeV Atomic Reflector that would study moon's interaction with the sun and Near IR spectrometer the crust, and C1XS - will capture high resolution X ray images. Bulgaria has Radiation Dose Monitor to study radiation effects.

Thirdly, what needs to be appreciated is the fact that Indians have been doing extremely well in space research ever since 1975 or so when the technology transfer from Russia and US stopped completely to India. At that time, we had to do everything on our own. Thanks to Vikram Sarabhai whose vision was to go the indigenous way as he believed Indians in the past centuries have shown they were space experts even without precise instruments or other gadgets. The credit must go to ISRO.

Fourthly, this successful launch has opened avenues for further space exploration and tie up with other space agencies in the world. The commerical wing of ISRO, Antrix Corporation had earned millions of dollars to launch other countries' payload on our spacecraft earlier this year. Now, the company will progress further. Already, Russia has signed a deal with ISRO for Chandrayan 2 which will have a rover (will be developed by Russia) that will land on the moon. The launch spacecraft will be that of India's - GSLV. India's GSLV - III will match China's capability in launching vehicles.

"India has the flag on Mount Everest and now it is on the moon, he said. I congratulate ISRO on this remarkable achievement," Abdul Kalam

Fifthly, we need to realize that unlike other countries which spend a lot on space, Indian Govt spends very little on space and yet ISRO has demonstrated remarkable engineering marvels in the past 20 years. For example, read this article to know the success rate. Their success rate is very high almost comparable to US and China in terms of launching capabilities. China is far ahead in terms of reconnaissance satellites that can destroy other satellites. India has always been cautious of not having developed such a capability because it would result in space race on a military level. Of course, China is ahead even in international space stations. However, if India sends a manned mission by 2015 (as declared by ISRO), then it will outdo China's target of 2020 which will give it an edge.

Sixthly, let us not forget that we achieved success in the first attempt and it is a giant leap. The readers of this article may argue that at this point every country must possibly aware of the latest techniques to launch a moon mission. However, I would like to also tell the fact that knowing is different from delivering in the first attempt with 100% precision.

Sevethly, the budget used is Rs.386 cr. It is the cheapest moon mission any country could think of.

(All images from Hindu, IT, Business Standard)

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