Deep space exploration

US plans to work with India in deep space exploration

By Pallava Bagla

NEW DELHI: An Indo-American space exploration mission is in preparation.

The unthinkable is already happening in space, India and America plan together to explore the last unknown frontier. Until recently, India was an untouchable.

Venus, Mars and an asteroid could all be the next big destinations for India to explore. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is now embarking on a new planet-hunting venture. There are indications that the United States of America will work with India in this “deep space exploration”.

According to ISRO’s own plans, within the next few years another robust mission to the planet Mars is planned by ISRO. A possible flyby to an asteroid is likely. A small satellite aptly called “Aditya” will keep a constant eye on the Sun’s ever-changing moods.

Addressing the students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai Richard Verma, US Ambassador to India surprised by saying, “We look forward to groundbreaking work between NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] and ISRO on deep space exploration to Mars and beyond”.

Until 2005, ISRO was a total pariah subject to total technological denial and the sanctions were in full force, but a decade later the chill has subsided and relations have thawed, now hand in hand, the two want to fly “where no one has gone before”.

If Pluto was the target of the American space agency through its ‘New Horizons’ mission, the Indian space agency also sets itself the objective of exploring the solar system to its limits. On ISRO’s wish list “a technology demonstration mission or flyby to the outer solar system.”

The current head of ISRO, who played a key role in the success of Mangalyaan, said: “For the next planetary mission, we are looking at opportunities, whether it is a repeat mission to Mars, a mission to Venus or even an asteroid mission,” revealed Kiran Kumar, President, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Exploring Venus might be the next logical step since India has already been to Mars. It is the neighbor of the Earth and if all goes well in a few years an Indian rocket will take off and head towards the interior of the solar system.

So far, only Russia, America, the European Space Agency (ESA) are the ones that have managed to reach Venus. In 2010, Japan tried but failed. Can India write world history again by becoming the first Asian country to reach Venus. Repeating a moment in history when the Indian Mangalyaan, on their first attempt, reached the Red Planet themselves, a feat that has not been achieved by any other country.

Venus is considered a twin of the Earth and yet we understand very little about this telluric planet. It is almost the same size as Earth but it has an extremely dense atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide and being closer to the Sun it has an average temperature of around 460 degrees Celsius.

UR Rao, former president of ISRO and head of the committee that decides on science missions, has long expressed the wish that India would ideally visit Venus soon.

Experts believe that Venus somehow resembles what could be Earth’s ultimate fate if the uncontrolled release of carbon dioxide continues unabated and the climate continues to change as carbon dioxide builds up in the planet. atmosphere.

Kumar says there’s a lot to learn about Venus, like trying to figure out “why does Venus’ atmosphere spin in the opposite direction.”

Some of these future planetary missions would require larger rockets and, according to Kumar, the Indian-made Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-II (GSLV Mk-II) is likely to be the preferred vehicle because it has “superior capabilities”. The nearly 50-meter-tall rocket that weighs up to 414 tons is capable of hoisting a 2,500-kilogram satellite on interplanetary travel.

India has had extremely successful interplanetary missions, the most recent being Mangalyaan which reached Mars orbit in 2014 and continues to operate vigorously sending scientific data back to India.

The Mars Orbiter or (MOM) mission was launched using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Kumar says “we have demonstrated the overall capability that we can get to Mars with a minimal launch vehicle using the PSLV”.

Therefore, a new mission to Mars is very likely but with a heavier satellite where scientific instruments would have priority. Kumar said “the next mission will be science-driven.”

A recent paper submitted by ISRO to the government appeals to what is going through the minds of ISRO scientists and engineers: “Initiatives to undertake an orbiter and lander mission to Mars during of the 2018 launch opportunity – identification of scientific payloads”.

Exploration of the surface features of Mars, viz. Martian morphology, topography, mineralogy and atmosphere” can all be studied at Mangalyaan-2. Kumar says no final decision has been made on the next Mars mission and no date has been set. Kumar is sure that Mangalyaan-2 will be a scientific mission unlike the first Mangalyaan, which was a “technology demonstrator”.

India already has a second visit to the Moon planned for 2018 via Chandrayaan-2 which will include an orbiter, lander and rover on the lunar surface. This Rs 500 crore mission is already being assembled in Bengaluru and will be launched using the GSLV Mk-II.

According to ISRO, this would “deepen our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon with upgraded versions of the Chandrayaan-1 instruments for imaging, mineralogy and chemistry; addition of alpha and neutron spectrometers in the orbiter. Studies of the lunar radiation environment, including solar wind interactions.’

Beyond Chandrayaan-2, ISRO is looking to plan “return missions of lunar samples from the moon’s polar region and the eventual establishment of a lunar observatory.”

ISRO in its plans also lists “a remote sensing asteroid orbiter and cometary flyby: for the scientific purpose of understanding asteroid and comet evolution, early solar system processes, meteorite-asteroid connection, the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid and cometary material”.

India is also looking to undertake an asteroid visit and it is quite possible that India will cooperate with the US space agency NASA on their asteroid initiative where they will attempt to redirect or even harvest a asteroid. India, with its demonstrated ability to undertake low-cost, high-value interplanetary travel – Mangalyaan at Rs 450 crores was the cheapest mission ever – offers great opportunities for NASA to work with.

A possible win-win for both parties where space science would be the biggest winner.