National

From Aditya To Gaganyaan: ISRO’s Next Chapter Aims Bigger, Goes Deeper Into Space

The landing of Chandrayaan-3 on Moon is not the end but the beginning of the much more ambitious next chapter of the Indian space programme that is set to explore Lunar South Pole, study the Sun, and put Indians in space on an Indian platform under the Gaganyaan programme.

ISROs Chandrayaan-3 Lunar Mission
info_icon

When Chandrayaan-3 lands on Moon on Wednesday, it brings to fruition the programme that began in 2008 with Chandrayaan-1. 

With the landing, India becomes just the fourth country in the world to reach Moon after the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. It also becomes the only country to land on the South Pole of Moon, which is the shadowy, unexplored side of Moon where all future Lunar missions are headed. 

The landing of Chandrayaan-3 on Moon is, however, not the end. It is the beginning of the much more ambitious next chapter of the Indian space programme that is set to explore Lunar South Pole, study the Sun, and put Indians in space on an Indian platform under the Gaganyaan programme. 

Space policy researcher Pranav R Satyanath says the demonstration of the ability to land on Moon opens the door for collaboration with foreign space agencies on a range of missions related to Moon and beyond. 

With the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) own missions and potential collaborative missions with foreign agencies, the future of the Indian space programme is set for an exciting new chapter. Satyanath further tells Outlook that ISRO has indicated it’s up for greater technology transfer to the private sector and is open to a deeper integration of the private sector in the Indian space programme, which means that the new chapter would not just be led by the government but is also likely to have a visible and proactive private component. 

Gaganyaan mission to take Indians to space

While Chandrayaan-3 takes an Indian spacecraft to Moon, the Gaganyaan mission would take Indian astronauts into the space for the first time on an Indian platform.

So far, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma is the only Indian to have gone to space. In 1984, he went to space as part of an India-Soviet Union joint mission and spent eight days aboard the Salyut 7 Space Station. When the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked how India looks from space, Sharma famously replied, “Saare jahaan se achha (The most beautiful in the world).”

In his Independence Day speech in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Indian human spaceflight programme, Gaganyaan, and said it would be launched in 2022. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, delayed it and it’s understood that the earliest launch could only take place sometime next year. 

Earlier, the ISRO had said three Indian astranauts would spend three days in space as part of the Gaganyaan mission. Their training has been completed. 

Before the human Gaganyaan mission, there would be three dry runs, two with paylods and one without any paylod, says Dr Aloke Kumar of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, whose laboratory is developing a biological payload for Gaganyaan. The earliest launch date for the mission is April 2024.

Kumar tells Outlook that the biological payload is currently under review by ISRO.

Kumar and his lab have developed bricks using a bacteria and soil samples stimulating the soils of Moon and Mars. The idea is that whenever humans have to make settlements on Moon or Mars, they could use components from there —like Lunar or Martian soil— and bacteria and other components from Earth to make building blocks. 

“Our biological payload for Gaganyaan is a bacteria in a box. Understanding the effect of space on biology is now key. Through this mission, we would understand the behaviour of this ‘good’ bacteria. Ideally, we would study it on Moon or Mars, but we are for now planning for low-Earth orbit studies,” says Kumar, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc Bengaluru.

Kumar says the space programme has now gone beyond conventional space engineering and is a truly multidisciplinary programme which, as human spaceflight and settlements are planned, involve everyone from space medicine to material sciences for building human habitats in space.

As with the Chandrayaan-3, the Gaganyaan is part of the broader Indian spacefaring ambitions which extend to potential human missions to Moon and Mars.

As part of the Gaganyaan mission, the ISRO has undertaken research and development (R&D) activities on new technology areas like life support systems, bioastronautics, crew training and human rating and certification, etc, which would “constitute important components for future sustained human space flight activities like rendezvous and docking, space station-building and interplanetary collaborative manned missions to Moon/Mars and near-earth asteroids,” according to ISRO. 

Aditya-L1: India’s mission to study Sun

The ISRO on August 14 announced India’s mission to study the Sun. It is named Aditya-L1. The Aditya-L1 is envisioned as the first space-based Indian observatory to study the Sun. The spacecraft would be placed at Lagrange Point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, which is about 1.5 million km from Earth. It would carry seven payloads that would study the Sun. 

From L1, which serves as a special vantage point for the Sun, Aditya-L1’s four payloads would directly view the Sun and three payloads would “carry out in-situ studies of particles and fields at the Lagrange Point L1, thus providing important scientific studies of the propagatory effect of solar dynamics in the interplanetary medium,” says ISRO on its website. 

The ISRO further says, “The suits of Aditya L1 payloads are expected to provide most crucial informations to understand the problem of coronal heating, coronal mass ejection, pre-flare and flare activities and their characteristics, dynamics of space weather, propagation of particle and fields etc…The instruments of Aditya-L1 are tuned to observe the solar atmosphere mainly the chromosphere and corona. In-situ instruments will observe the local environment at L1.”

Advertisement

India-Japan Moon mission to search water

The ISRO and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JEXA) are working on a Lunar Polar Exploration mission called LUPEX. Under the LUPEX mission, a Japanese rocket would carry an Indian lander and a Japanese rover to Moon. The main mission objective would be to look for the presence of water on the polar regions of Moon. It is currently scheduled for 2025.

“The Lunar Polar Exploration mission will confirm not only the presence of water, but investigate the quantity, distribution on the lunar surface and below ground, and the form the water exists in, such as the level of mixing with dry regolith (small particles). A further objective is to gain insight into how water on the lunar surface evolved to its present state through acquiring knowledge on the Moon’s environment. Understanding how water is retained by planetary bodies is important for the prospect of future human exploration beyond the Earth,” says the mission overview statement of ISRO and JEXA.

Advertisement

Notably, Chandrayaan-3 also lands on the South Pole of the Moon — for the first time ever. Earlier in 2009, an India-US collaboration had confirmed the presence of ice on the South Pole of Moon. An instrument made by US Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) aboard Chandrayaan-1 discovered ice when the craft was intentionally crashed into Moon.

Earlier this month, ISRO and JEXA also announced their agreement to exchange data of future missions —such as Aditya-L1— that would help with individual missions of the either country as well as joint missions. 

India-US Earth-observation satellite 

The ISRO and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are working on a joint Earth-observation satellite named NISAR. It is scheduled to be launched in 2024.

Advertisement

The NISAR would map the Earth in 12-day cycles and will provide spatially and temporally consistent data for understanding changes in Earth’s ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level rise, and ground water, says ISRO on its website. 

The ISRO further says the satellite has applications in natural hazards and disasters, such as during earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides. Of the two main components, one each would come from ISRO and NASA.

More foreign collaborations, private involvement 

The next few years mark the beginning of the next phase of the Indian space programme which would include greater potential of collaboration with foreign space agencies as well as the domestic private sector. 

Advertisement

The Indian Space Policy (ISP-23) published this year outlines India’s approach to the private sector, which includes technology transfers and facilitating launches as well. Space policy researcher Pranav R Satyanath tells Outlook that the next 10 years would see bigger involvement of the private sector in the space programme. 

“The ISRO has shown willingness to transfer its technology to the private sector. There are of course conditions to such transfers. The ISP-23 also makes way for private players to develop launch vehicles for small satellites. This way, the commercial launches that ISRO’s commercial arm does would no longer be its exclusive domain as private sector would also compete — at least for small satellites,” says Satyanath, Research Associate, Council for Strategic and Defense Research (CSDR).

Advertisement

Satyanath clarifies that ‘heavier’ launches would continue to be the domain of ISRO for the forseeable future as nothing with the private sector now or in the near future would match ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLVs). 

The geopolitics is also in India’s favour. As much of the Western world, under the leadership of the United States, decouples from China in technological domains, India emerges as an appealing partner in space endeavours in place of China.

“The West has limited enthusiasm about space collaboration with China because of the prevailing geopolitical conditions. As India demonstrates its spacefaring capabilities, more and more space collaborations of Western space agencies with India would be possible as they distance from China and seek a new partner,” says Satyanath.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement