Sunday, October 31, 2010

India's interplanetary missions

      Exactly a week ago, none other than chairman of Isro, K.Radhakrishnan, made a statement at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi National Open University, which has even set those within the space agency thinking.
He said that India's space programme ``is inching closer to the realisation of its plans for interplanetary missions and a mission to Mars has become a priority for us.''

     Isro officials, however, preferred not to attach much weight to his declaration reiterating that beyond informal studies about a possible flight to Mars, no major or significant progress has been made in this area. They even went to the extent of saying that the Space Commission, the body which gives the green light to all Isro projects, has yet to approve a Mars mission.

     Be that as it may, the question then is-- will the head of the country's space agency openly make a committment saying that a ``mission to Mars for several reasons has become a priority for us?''  Why would he say this? His remark has triggered speculation that the Mars project could have perhaps made some progress beyond the usual level of informal analysis and discussions by Isro officials, which as usual is being kept under wraps. It is possible that most officials in Isro are out of the chairman's loop and have not been kept updated about different missions.

     Radhakrishnan told the students that ``deep space missions have their own challenges, Gravitational forces from different planets,x-rays from sun and various hazards have to be carefully monitored besides a study of Martian surface.''

     For India it is doubtless that a mission to Mars has become a priority for three reasons:-

     * A Russian mission to Mars, Phobos-Grunt, on which a payload from China designated as Yinghuo-1 is slated for launch in 2013.

     * China has announced plans to launch its own orbiter to Mars in 2013.

     * A mission to Mars is part of the Japanese space agenda.

     In this Asian scenario, it is obvious that India will not lag behind. One cannot hide the fact that there is a Race To The Red Planet.

     What better proof that this country is serious about a mission to Mars than a workshop being organised by the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad between January 3 and 7 2011 on ``Exploration of Mars and Moon.'' The announcement says that a ``Mars mission is under planning.''

     And a few days ago a programme about ``Mission To Mars,'' by Sky News relating to Nasa's ``Hundred Years Starship Programme,'' talks about four countries which are currently in a Race to Mars. They are India, Russia, China and the US.

      Father of the Indian moon mission, Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, has always maintained that a mission to Mars will always be a logical folo-up to a mission to moon.

     So, it is absolutely clear that India is on the way to Mars, though Isro officials prefer to keep quite about it.



Saturday, October 30, 2010

China on Indian moon mission.

          At a time when India's second Rs 425-crore moon mission, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' is steadily taking shape, support for India's lunar programme has come from an unusual quarter---its arch rival China. And significantly from none other than its chief lunar scientist,Ouyang Ziyuan.

          Ziyuan, in a recent interview to a Chinese national daily, ``Global Times,'' said that as a large country, ``it (India) needs lunar exploration to spur technology development and invigorate the national spirit.'' The Chinese scientist, also an expert on underground nuke tests,  praised India's space technology by pointing out that this country had the advantage over China in computer software.

          Though he was all praise for India, he said that this country has always viewed China as a competitor in moon missions. ``It is determined to realise manned lunar exploration by 2020,'' he told the newspaper, thereby hinting that India was planning a human landing on the moon merely to beat China. But Isro officials reiterate that a manned flight to the moon was not immediately on the cards.

          There is a touch of irony about Ziyuan praising India because soon after the launch of Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008, China criticised it saying that it failed on a number of areas and the mission was not a complete success. This of course was anything but the truth since nearly 95 per cent of the scientific objectives of the Indian lunar mission had been accomplished even though the project got cut short by a year because of a communication failure.

           Incidentally, his remarks about India need to be seen in the context of a report in a well known space web site Space Daily. com which suggested that in the not-distant-future one should not be surprised if China and Pakistan team up in space missions. Based on this ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' had written about this possible development.

          According to him India has been bracketed with a second group of countries which have embarked on lunar missions. These are Europe, Japan and China. The first group consists of the US and Russia. The third one comprises those nations which are exploring the possibility of launching lunar missions. These could be Singapore and Malaysis.          



Friday, October 29, 2010

Mark-minus 42 days and counting.

           About 42 days left. At Sriharikota hectic activity is in progress with scientists and engineers working 24X7. Right now all systems are a ``go.''

           The mission  The three-stage Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) powered with a Russian cryogenic engine will fly the indigenous GSat-5p communication satellite. Expected date of launch. December 10,2010.

           The satellite. developed and designed at the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre, weighs around 2000 kg. It is equipped with 12 normal c-band and six extended c-band transponders with wider coverage in uplink and downlink over Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe as well as zonal coverage. It will have a 12-year life span and will enhance telecommunication services.

             On Saturday, Isro officials told `Beyond Moon and Mars,'' that integration work is in progress at Sriharikota.

             Many scientists are keeping their fingers crossed and are praying for the success of the mission. The track record of the Gslv after all is not as even as that of the Pslv--a fact even acknowledged by none other than former Isro chief Madhavan Nair. Added to this is the fact that the weather at Sriharikota should not play spoilt sport. Chances of cyclonic conditions developing cannot be completely ruled out.

           If all is a `go'  and the mighty rocket lifts off and places the satellite in the geo stationary transfer orbit at an altitude of 30,000 kms prior to it moving to its permanent home 36,000 kms above the equator after an about 15-minute flight, be sure scientists will heave a sigh of relief!
         With this mission, Isro will have just a single Russian-supplied cryogenic engine. This means that as of now just one more Gslv flight is possible until the indigenous engine is ready for operations---the previous Gslv flight with an India-made engine failed. It is for this reason that Russia is keen on renegotiating with India for the supply of additional cryogenic engines for the future Gslv missions.

            In this scenario the question is whether Isro will wait for its scientists to declare with complete confidence that the indigenous one is ready to power more Gslv missions. Or will it ask for additional engines for Russia so that the schedule remains unaffected?  

            Interesting developments ahead.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

China launches space station project

           It is a typical Chinese way of doing things. Just in time for the 10th anniv celebrations of the first residents at the International Space Station (ISS), which is on November 2, China has announced that it has launched its manned space station programme, which it hopes to complete by 2020.

           So typically Chinese, it has laid out a clear road map for this important project. According to a report in the Chinese daily, ``People's Daily,'' the country is attempting to develop and launch the first segment before 2016. This will focus on breakthroughs in living conditions and also research applications.

           Thereafter, it would launch a core cabin and a second lab modeule around 2020 which would be assembled around the earth into a manned space station. As a part of this project, two unmanned modules, named Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 will be launched in 2011. These were expected to accomplish the country's first space docking and were regarded as an essential step towards in constructing the space station.

            Tiangong-1 which means Heavenly Palace, would be eventually transformed into a manned space lab . This will follow experimental dockings with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. The last two are expected to carry two or three astronauts.

            According to space experts, the primary role of the Chinese space station would be to prepare its Taikonauts for a trip to Mars. There is another question---now with China going in increasingly for international colloboration in space exploration will it in the long run accomomodate astronauts from other countries?

           The announcement by China about its space station programme comes just a few weeks after the director general of the European Space Agency Jean Jacques Dardin, told a meeting of the International Astrouantical Congress in Prague, that China along with India, the two Asian space powers, should become a part of the ISS.

            The Chinese space station project has a lot of geo political significance. By chance if other countries decide to send their astronauts to the Chinese space station, will India long behind?

            Something perhaps to ponder about.



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

10,000 years ahead

       On Tuesday, the history of the exciting world of space and astronomy crossed an important milesteone when data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was released ,which established that it was used to look 10,000 years into the future.

       According to the Space Telescope Science Institute which manages Hubble, the globular star cluster called Omega Centauri, located at a distance of 16,000 light years away, first catalogued by the ancient astronomer, Ptolemy, 2000 years ago, was initially thought to be a single star. But an analysis of Hubble data showed that it was actually a beehive swarm of nearly 10 million stars.

      Omega Centauri is one of roughly 150 star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy and is the biggest and brightest cluster which can be observed by an aided eye.

      The stars are so tightly crammed together that astronomers had to wait for the HST to peep deep into the core of the beehive and resolve the individual stars. It took four years to analyse the data provided by Hubble's advanced camera for surveys. Astronomers have made the most accurate measurements yet of the motions of more than 100,000 cluster inhabitants, stated to be the largest survey to date to study the movement of stars in any cluster.

      Finding them is comparable to a massive archealogical exercise. The significance of the Hubble's discovery was that what once appeared to be single was separated by the telescope. This will now allow scientists and astronomers to delve deep into what they call as ``stellar islands,'' which in turn is expected to provide a deep insight into the formation of the universe.

      Astronomer, Jay Anderson, of the institute has been quoted as saying: ``It takes high speed sophisticated computer programmes to measure the tiny shifts in the position of the stars that occur in only four years' time.''


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mango and Tango

       Mango and Tango. While Mango weighs 150 kg, the weight of Tango is 40 kg. Any guess that they are? If you think they are two kittens, parrots or monkeys you are mistaken. They are two satellites which are playing an important role in the development of the Swedish space programme and are a part of the country's Prisma project.

       Launched on June 15, 2010, by a Russian rocket, the two satellites separated on August 10. Currently, they are flying at an altitude of 600 kms in the sun synchronous orbit and their mission life is for about 10 months. At the end of their life span, it is possible that the Mango spacecraft could be still left with some fuel on board, As a result the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC)  along with the Princeton Satellite Systems are offering civil and military organisations all over the world to conduct their own experiments on this satellite,

        What is signifcant about this Swedish satellite mission?, a reputed space website, states that the main aim is to experiment new technologies relating formation flying in orbit and more importantly autonomous rendevous technologies, On October 20,2010, flying at a speed of 17,000 mph,  the two satellites executed a celestian dance, when they made their closest approach with the distance between them being a mere seven metres. This was an experiment in formation flying which in future has several applications like for example building huge antennas and telescopes, according to SSC, which is in charge of the project.

         The development of rendevous technology will pave the way for in-orbit inspection, servicing or assembly missions. This is based on optical information. The SSC states that for the development of an autonomous rendevous technology, the typical model project is a Mars Sample Return Mission and servicing in the geo synchronous orbit at an altitude of 30,000 kms above the equator.

         This has raised questions in space circles whether Sweden is exploring the possibility of launching a sample return to Mars. Quite possible considering that there is now a Race To The Red Planet among different countries, including India. Or, it is even possible that the country is planning a spacecraft which can autonomously rendevous with the International Space Station (ISS) ferrying cargo to begin with. Who will not forget the successful automatic rendevous of the European Space Agency's automated transfer vehicle (ATV). Jules Verne, with the ISS sometime back? 

         The Prisma project was established in 2005 when the SSC formulated a mission concept consisting of two satellites and a series of experiments in order to evaluate formation flying and autonomous rendevous technologies.  .


Monday, October 25, 2010

China plans mission to Mars

        From moon to Mars. After chalking out a detailed roadmap of its future lunar missions, China is now working out details of an unmanned scientific flight to Mars. It may be recalled that China launched its second mission to the moon, Chang'e-2 on October 1.

        Now it is exploring the possibility of launchng an independent Mars orbiter for which it has drawn up technical plans.

        A report in the Straits Times on October 24, quoting the China Academy of Space Technology, says that the mission could lift off in 2013---the same year when India launches its second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2. Infact in the same year China also plans to send its third lunar mission, Chang'e-3. So, if plans go on sked, then 2013 promises to be an exciting year for space exploration.   

        The paper says that the current flight plan enviages the Chinese Mars-bound spacecraft being first sent to the earth-Mars orbit. and then fly for about 10 months before entering the elliptical orbit around Mars. The mission which will conduct scientific experiments is expected to last a year or two. The spacecraft will weigh 1040 kg and the payload 110 kg.

         The project is awaiting the green signal from Beijing, but Yang Baohua, president of the China Academy of Space Technology, has been quoted as saying that ``a mission to Mars is no doubt the future trend and mission for China.''

         The chief designer of Chang'e-1--China's first lunar mission--Ye Peijan, has acknowledged that the technical plan does not represent the world's most advanced technologies in deep space exploration. ``But, it will be the most reliable plan which can help to achieve the goal in the shortest time,'' he has been quoted as saying.

          China's independent mission to Mars will be preceded by a joint flight to the Red Planet with Russia in December 2011.

          On March 26,2007, China and Russia signed an agreement which stipulates a Chinese payload called Yinghuo-1 piggy backing on a Russian mission to Mars called Phobos-Grunt. Its main role is to study the Martian environment

           Yinghuo-1, weighing 110 kg,  will carry two cameras which will image Mars and Phobos for a year.

           Now with Russia and China aiming for Mars, can India be far behind?

           I do not think so.



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Zooming towards the moon

        Sorry. just bare with me!  I do not intend to sound repetitive, but I cannot help saying it again and again, considering the way our space scientists have been sidelined despite their super accomplishments.

        We may be angry with Nasa for grabbing the credit which should have rightly gone to India for the discovery of water and carbon diaxide on the moon. But, then let us not forget that we live in a ruthless and competitive world. If our own nation fails to recognise the achievements of our scientists, no use crying if another country--which in this case happens to be the US--takes advantage of India's attitude and walks away with the prize. In such a situation what else can we do, but  remain mute spectators to this injustice.

         The system is such in India at the moment that it has allowed another country to grab the reward which should really belong to our space scientists--especially the young team which designed and developed the Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace), a payload on board the indigenous Moon Impact Probe (MIP) of Chandrayaan-1. It was Chace which was the first to discover water and carbon diaxide on the moon on the night of November 14,2010, but how many are aware about it?  Unfortunately, not even a tiny percentage of India's population. A sorry state of affairs.

        Many college students with whom I have interacted recently are upset about these developments and are keen that the records should be set right and the truth should come out regarding the role of Chandrayaan-1 in the discovery of water and carbon diaxide. There is even a suggestion that a forum should be formed which can highlight the truth in public. Why not a signature campaign to the PM? I would welcome a feedback on this issue. 
        Why blame anybody?  Will anyone bother if Isro's own website which mentions the discoveries of some of the Chandrayaan payloads particularly the Terrain Mapping Camera, choses to ignore the breakthrough attained by MIP?  Apart from Chace, there was another payload on board MIP called the Moon Imaging System which captured images of the moon as the probe headed towards the lunar surface. A portion of it has been briefly reproduced in a dvd called ``The Moon Within Reach,'' which is about the Chandrayaan-1 mission. Why not reproduce it in the Isro website?  Ask Isro why this has not been done, and they do not have a proper reply.

        Recently, I finished a book called ``Live TV From The Moon,'' by Dwight Steven-Boniecki which talks about how public pressure resulted in TV being installed on the Apollo missions to the moon. Thanks to this there was a lot of public participation in the project. I think we in India should emulate this example, bring public pressure to create more awareness about the success of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, which is unfortunately not there at the moment.

        When the Chace scientists published their findings in the British journal, ``Space and Planetary Science,'' about water and carbon diaxide in March and September 2010, it should have been rightly preceded with a formal announcement by Isro during a media interaction as Nasa always does with its achievements.

       This would have make every Indian proud.




Pratham takes shape

           Enthusiasm, energy, excitement, hardwork and team spirit. Whom and what do they describe? Any guess?  They apply to a group of dedicated youngsters who are slogging 24X7 to ensure that their prestigious institute, none other than IIT-B at Powai rockets into orbit next year. Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) is sure that they will succeed, and their efforts will handsomely pay off. All the very best.

          How will they launch IIT-B into orbit? Though the 10 kg microsatellite called Pratham which is now steadily taking shape in the institute's labs and workshops. This exciting project was initiated in July 2007 by two students of the aerospace engineering department, Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay and Shashank Tamaskar.

         BMM had the opportunity to interact with the team on June 19 2010 during a ground station workshop at IIT-B and see the tiny satellite being developed. Needless to say it was an exciting and rewarding experience.

           Pratham project manager, Jhonny Santosh Jha, said that the satellite is slated for launch in 2011 on board the highly-proven Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). With a four-month life span, it will operate at an altitude of 817 kms in the polar sun synchronous orbit. Its primary role? To study the ionosphere.

          The prestigious Pratham project has a four-fold objective. These are:-

          * Enabling students and faculty to gain knowledge and experience in the field of satellite and space technology.
          * Empowering the satellite team with the skills to develop the satellite through various phases of design, analysis, fabrication and testing until the flight model is made.
          * Launching the satellite into orbit and measuring the atmosphere.
          * Involving students from other universities in the satellite mission by building ground stations in other universities.

          One of the objectives of the Pratham project is to make IIT-B a respected centre for the advancement in satellite and space technology in the world. The project aims at launching five satellites withing the next few years.

          Jhonny said that about a fortnight ago the ground station set up on the terrace of the aerospace engineering department at IIT-B decoded the beacon signals of the 17-member International Space Station (ISS), (Sorry folks some media guys have confused the satellite for the ground station!). ``It was clear and precise and was in a way a dress rehearsal for the much-awaited launch of Pratham,'' he said. Coincidentally, this has happened at a time when the European Space Agency has expressed a desire that India should partner with the ISS. But Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, told the astronautical meet at Prague that for the moment India has no intention to joining the ISS.

           The Pratham team has just returned after making a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress 2010 in Prague. From Prague the group proceeded to Paris where a ground station specially for tracking Pratham is being established close to the French capital.  

         On March 18,2009 former Nasa adminstrator, Michael Griffin referring to Pratham said: ``That's an awesome project the kids at IIT-Bombay are doing. I am most impressed. When I was in college, I was building radios, not satellites. I wish them all the best. I do not think they need `luck.' My two visits to India have left me more than a little impressed with Indian aerospace engineers,'' he added.

         Great going Pratham. We are eagely looking forward for the launch and soon you guys will become active players in India's interplanetary missions.





Saturday, October 23, 2010

LCross results confirm Chandrayaan's Chace findings.

           My friend, Syed Maqbool Ahmed, project manager, Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace), one of the three payloads on board the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) of Chandrayaan-1 says: ``We got a wonderful second anniversary gift of Chandrayaan-1 launch in the form of LCross (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) results. At the end of the day, it's just the reconfirmation of two papers of Chace published in the British journal, ``Planetary and Space Science.'' The journal carried the announcement about the discovery of water by Chace in its March issue and the one about carbon diaxide in September.

          Syed calls it a moment of celebration because the LCross findings which were announced by Nasa on October 21 and October 22 (IST), have only strengthened and endorsed those of our Chace relating to the discovery of water, carbon diaxide and heavier species. Secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, says it is something to be proud of and this has now set the stage for the second Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, slated for lift off in 2013.

          Chandrayaan-1 was launched on October 22,2008, and the Moon Impact Probe crash landed on the south pole region of the moon on the night of November 14,2008. While it was zooming down towards the moon, Chace on board the MIP detected water vapour and carbon diaxide--the first to do it.

           Had this mission been run by another country, it would have gone to town with this important discovery. But, of course we in India remained mute spectators, watching Nasa walk away with the credit for our finding. Nasa clearly took advantage of our silence.

          It is seems strange that while Chandrayaan-1, especially Chace, which has easily emerged as the most visible of all the spacecraft's payloads, is crossing a milestone at regular intervals, its achievements are going largely unnoticed within the country. Can you believe that in Isro's own website there is no mention of the breakthroughs attained by Chace? Why? This has triggered speculation whether there are any pressures working to ensure that the achievements of Chace are hidden from the public domain.

          How pathetic is the state of affairs can be gauged by the fact that some guys in Mumbai were blissfully ignorant of the fact that the credit for Chandrayaan's discovery of water, has gone to Nasa. I now doubt whether they are even aware that Chace discovered water and carbon diaxide. And as far as the media is concerned, it for some reason does not want to be on the wrong side of the Americans!

          At the Nasa media briefing the chief lunar scientist at the space agency's headquarters, Michael Wargo, said: ``Nasa has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterised its patchy distribution in the permanently shadowed regions of the moon.''  Chace had made this discovery much earlier.

          He added: ``We've confirmed that there was indeed water ice in the ejecta plume and at an abundance that was about 50 per cent greater than our initial estimates.''

          Nasa said: ``The twin impacts of LCross and a companion rocket stage in the moon's Cabeus crater on October 9,2008,lifted a plume of material that might not have seen the direct sunlight for billions of years.  As the plume travelled nearly 10 miles above the rim of Cabeus, instruments abroad LCross and LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) made observations of the crater and debris and vapour clouds. After the impact, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vaccum of space.''

          The suite of LCross and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 per cent of the material kicked up by LCross impact included methane, ammonia, carbon diaxide and carbon monoxide. I might be sounding repetitive but the September issue of Space and Planetary Science carried the announcment about the finding of carbon diaxide by Chace.

          Principal investigator of LCross, Anthony Colaprete, said: ``Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities.'' I recall a statement made by Chandrayaan-1 project director, Mylswmay Annadurai, at the SIES College in Mumbai on September 26,2009, saying that one of the key discoveries of the Indian moon mission was that the source of water on the moon ``could be within and not an external factor.''

         Colaprete said that Hydroxyl ion was also found by LCross which was seen in the M Cubed. M Cubed is Nasa's Moon Minerology Mapper one of the payloads on board Chandrayaan-1. Pradeep explaiined that when hydrogen and hydroxyl come together they form water molecules.

          Nasa says the discovery of water will help future mission planners to determine which locations will have easily accessible water. ``The existance of mostly pure water ice could mean future human explorers won't have to retrieve the water out of the soil in order to use it for valuablr life support resources. In addition,an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel,'' it states.

          According to the The New York Times, if astronauts were to visit the crater in the south pole region of the moon which is wet, they might be able to use eight wheel barrows of soil to melt 10 to 13 gallons of water. It says if the water is purified it could be used for drinking or broken apart into hydrogen or oxygen for rocket fuel which can be used for flying back to earth or going to Mars.
       All in all bulk of this discovery by LCross and had already been made by Chace. Unfortunately, hardly anyone knows about this. This certainly calls for a public debate about this entire controversy regarding the discovery of water on the moon which has earned the title of ``Moongate,'' after Watergate.

          The official stand of Isro and Nasa is that they were not in a lunar race regarding the discovery of water.

          This may be true, but does that mean that the facts should be twisted and slanted in favour of one powerful group?




Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oct 22---Chandrayaan launch second anniv

           October 22 2008. 6.22 a.m. The mighty work horse of Isro, the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) roars into life, carrying a precious spacecraft. The destination?  The moon. I was among the hundreds of mediapersons clapping excitedly witnessing the grand lift off from the terrace of Brahm Prakash hall at Sriharikota. The name of the spacecraft. Chandrayaan-1. It was a super birthday gift for me!

           October 22,2009. The first anniv of the launch of Chandrayaan-1. I celebrated it in Bangalore with the launch of my book ``Moonshot India,'' which is about Chandrayaan. The book was launched by Isro Satellite director, Dr.T.K.Alex. Chandrayaan project director, Mylswamy Annadurai, was present on the occasion, apart from a large number of Isro officials.

           October 22,2010. Nothing really planned for the mission's second anniv. But I will celebrate it in my own way by writing this blog based on the presentation given by my good friend, Syed Maqbool, who played a key role in the design and development of the Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace) which was one of the three payloads on board the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). MIP was one of the five indigenous payloads of Chandrayaan-1. Remember it was Chace which discovered water and carbon diaxide on the moon.

           He gave this presentation in January at the TED Hitech City in Hyderabad which threw light on some of the unknown aspects of Chace. Syed began by saying that after the Pokhran n-weapons tests a need was felt to do something spectacular on the scientific front. After a lot of discussions, the question was posed as to why not go to the moon?  The decision was backed by scientists.

          Said Syed: ``Space research is ruthless. But not as ruthless as Russian roulette. If hundred decisions are taken and if the scientists had made even less than one per cent mistake, we would never have gone to the moon.''  In this context, he said that solar radiation provides a gentle push to the spacecraft. If there a slight variation in this, the spacecraft would never have been captured by the moon/s gravity. He cited the example of Nasa's Ranger missions to the moon, where out of the nine flights, only three were captured by the moon.

         Calling his presentation ``The Chace Saga: From The Earth To The Moon,''he asked what was the secret behind Chandrayaan's success?  He told the audience that though Dr Kalam was a bachelor, he still had a baby. It was the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). ``Kalam gave a four-point PPT and explained why at a meeting of scientists why India should embrace the moon.'In the MIP, we have sent our Chace,'' he said. Chace tried to look for water and tritium. ``This instrument was was the first to discover water in the first go, but the credit has gone to Nasa. This happened because of peer review we could not declare our findings earlier,'' he said.

          Said Syed: ``If we had to develop the instrument on our own, it would have taken 20 years. So we decided to follow the best way and acquired the gadgets through shopping and ruggedised and reinforced it. The commercial equipment was reinforced through epoxy acquired from Seden,We  followed the Indian Remote Sensing Satellites heritage,'' he told the audience. The electrical capicators and replaced with tantalum capicators so that it can survive the space environment.

          An interesting point mentioned by him was that through mechanical reinforcement the MIP was able to withstand 22g during the launch of the PSLV `` This was a big challenge. The maximum g experienced by a fighter pilot is five gs. ``We started with a commercial instrument and ended up space-qualified,'' he said.

          He said that the average age of the team was mid 30s and none had any clue about space engineering. ``We were told to dare to dream.''           

          ``I have worked for Nasa for two years and Isro combines both Western and Indian cultures. Its western system allows you to question even the highest official freely and observes the Indian way by following the hierachal system,'' he added. 

Sputnik launch--thru declassified documents.

        A few days ago Beyond Moon and Mars had pictured a sci fi scenario in which a Pak immigration official receives an Indian vyomanaut on the moon and offers him a Chinese lunch or dinner!  This was an example, in a light hearted manner, just to warn that if India does not begin to fund its human space flight programme fast, then we should not be surprised if, by chance, Pak beats India in the long run--say around 2025--and arrives on the moon first, of course with the help of the Chinese since Pak's space capabilities are limited.

        If this scenario turns into a reality it will prove a devastating psychological blow to the people of India and the country's image will take a beating. Let me quote from a confidential document what happened in the US soon after the Sputnik launch on October 4,1957.

        According to this confidential document: ``American prestige is viewed as having sustained a severe blow, and the American reaction, as sharply marked by concern, discomfiture and intense interest, has itself increased the disquiet of friendly countries and increased the impact of the satellite.''

       It says in the wake of the launch ``Mexican editors expressed diminished interest in USIS scientific feature articles, and frankly said that they were looking to Soviet sources for such material. In Teheran, officials of the Iranian government considered the satellite such a blow to US prestige that they displayed uneasy embarrassment in discussing it with the Americans. Representatives of the Western European Union Assembly meeting in Strasborough severely cricicised the US for falling behind in the arms race.''

       The document says that following the launch the USSR has entered into a psychological warfare. ``To the extent there is any substantial public conclusion that the USSR is leading in military power, the USSR appears to speak from strength not weaknesses. This psychological advantage could be exploited whether in seeking a detente or attempting an expansionisist venture,'' it says.

        Another document dated October 11.1957 of the National Security Council meeting quotes US secretary Quarles saying that after Sputnik launch the USSR ``have offered to co-operate with the United States and permit us to place our own instrumentation in one of their satellites. Our disposition is to find a good reason to refuse this offer. Since our own instrumentation is better and more eloborate than theirs, we would stand to lose more than we would gain by accepting their offer,'' he said.

       Twenty-four hours after the Sputnik launch on October 5,1957, Dr Detlev Bronk, president of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a statement saying: ``Friendly competition as well as co-operation is a stimulus to achievement in science as in other forms of human endeavour. Because scientists are human they naturally wish to be first to achieve success in a scientific undertaking. But, all scientists are fellow explorers on the frontiers of knowledge, who rejoice and benefit in the discoveries and achievements of their colleagues. And so we of the United States congratulate Soviet scientists on their achievement of yesterday,'' the statement said.

       On the very evening of the historic launch Hugh Odishaw, executive director, US National Committee for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of the National Academy of Sciences said: ``The launching of a USSR satellite as reported this evening, is of great scientific interest. We await with interest the definition of a specific orbit and details of their scientific investigation,'' he said.




Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Europe and space

           On October 21,  European ministers of 29 European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union states connected with space will gather in Brussels. The agenda? To delibrate upon Europe's future in space both through manned and unmanned missions. This is the second international conference on space exploration.

           According to the ESA, the main focus of the conference will be on new technologies, access to space and the type of infrastructure needed in low earth orbit.

           ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' activated the pre-conference webcast which kicks off with snap interviews with European astronauts who explain how they got inspired to embark on space exploration. They talk about the importance of exploration, the significance of political will and the importance of funding. The main webcast will begin later in the day (IST).

           An astronaut, Frank De Winne said in an Euronews interview:`` We go and travel because we like to discover new things.'' In what perhaps can be interpreted as a subtle attack on the Apollo 11 mission. he stated: ``As an astronaut I would love to walk on the moon with international partners and do more useful work than just plant a flag. We need to set up a station on the moon,'' he said.

          Once again India's emerging stature as a space power came into fore when none other than the director general of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, told Euronews that Europe must face the challenge posed by countries like India, the US, Russia, China and Japan. According to him one of the targets for the European space exploration programme was Mars and prior to that the moon.

          Calling the International Space Station (ISS) as the very first step in space exploration he said ``we must get most out of it by developing new technologies and partners. ``The ISS is a major contributor to global space exploration. The resumption of manned flights to the moon cannot be without international colloboration,'' he added.

           He said: ``Along with Nasa we want to utilise every available opportunity to go to Mars. The main emphasis will be on whether there exists life on Mars and in what form water exists."

          According to the ESA chief, the most challenging aspect of space exploration is ferrying items from earth. If these could be done then and there itself it would be beneficial, he added. ``Europe must have a place in international space projects,'' he added.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Subramaniam Chandrasekhar 100th birth anniv

         On Tuesday, October 19 the world observed the birth centenary of the internationally renowned astrophysicist and Nobel Laurete, Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar. A number of events were held to celebrate the anniversary, but one aspect remained largely remained unnoticed---the naming of a Nasa spacecraft after him in December 1998.

         Nehru Centre in Mumbai organised two interesting talks on Chandrasekhar--one by Bal Phondke and other by S.M.Chitre.

        When Nasa decided to launch the x-ray observatory, it was called the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility. But the space agency decided to give it a name and how did they go about it? It organised an international naming contest which attracted nearly 6000 enteries from 50 states and 61 countries. Several suggestions poured in and finally it chose the name recommended by a high school student from Idaho, and a physics and astronomy teacher from California. The name of the student was Tyrel Johnson, and that of the teacher, Jotila van deer Veen.

        What was the name they suggested? Chandra, in a tribute to Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar. They said that in their essay, which was scrutinised by a panel of eminent judges, that this would be the most appropriate name for the mission as it dealt with astrophysics and Chandrasekhar was an eminent astrophysicist. It was accepted and the spacecraft was christened the Chandra X-ray observatory.

        One of the prizes given to them was an opportunity to witness the launch of Chandra on July 23,1999, at the Kennedy Space Centre. Its original mission life was five years, but it has stretched to 11 years. Long live Chandra. I recall watching the launch on a TV at the The Times of India. It was morning and except for a handful of people, the third floor of editorial hall was almost empty. Therefore, the awesome roar of the space shuttle Columbia's lift off carrying Chandra did not really create much a problem!  Infact even those who are not generally interested and excited about space stood around the TV and watched the launch.

       At the moment Chandra flies 200 times higher than Hubble, more than one-third of the way to the moon. The electrical power needed to operate Chandra and instruments is two kilowatts, about the same power as a hair dryer.

        The spacecraft is the third of Nasa's four great observatories. The first was Hubble Space Telescope; second, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the last is the Spitzer Space Telescope.

        Chandra consists of four pairs of mirrors and their support structure. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Cambridge, MA, hosts the Chandra X-Ray Centre. It operates the satellite, processes the data and distributies it to scientists around the world for analysis. During the last 11 years Chandra has beamed  millions of interesting data and imaged the spectacular glowing remains of exploded stars.

       With three years left for the launch of Chandrayaan-2, we feel that Isro along with other agencies should emulate the example of Nasa by organising a naming contest for the rover which will fly on this mission and land on the moon. It can perhaps team up with organisations to hold a nation wide contest for students to name the rover.The winner can get an opportunity to watch the launch at Sriharikota.

        With my space colleague and good friend, Pradeep Mohandas, we have already initiated the first step in this direction and we are eagerly waiting for a response.

        We hope we succeed.  Incidentally, we still do not know how former PM, Atal Behari Vajpayee, decided to christen India's moon mission with such a beautiful name ``Chandrayaan.'' Surely, he could not have done it on the spur of the moment while giving his I-day speech in 2003 from the ramparts of Red Fort in New Delhi. 

       Does anyone know?   

Monday, October 18, 2010

India---a rising space power

          As an acknowledgement of India's status as a growing space-faring nation, it is now amply evident that western powers are keen on this country's participation in the International Space Station (ISS). Proof of this came from a recent statement of the space attache in French Embassy in Washington, Emmanuel de Lipkowski, who said: ``If we are able to build strong transatlantic co-operation from the frontier of Europe to Japan, we will be able to speak strongly and efficiently in front of the Chinese as well as in front of the Indians.''

          De Lipkowski, also a representative of the French space agency, CNES, has expressed the need for co-operation with India. The issue came up when Jeff Foust, of the well known space website, ``The Space Review'' attended a panel discussion on October 15 organised by the Washington-based Centre For Strategic and International Studies.

          His statement about India assumes significance in the context of a string of space successes by this country especially the scientific accomplishments of Chandrayaan-1. During the just-concluded International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Prague, representatives of space agencies expressed the need for India and China to become partners of the ISS because of their stature.

         For years India has been exploring the possibility of joining the ISS and at one stage senior Isro officials said that a firm decision will be taken after the scientists plan experiments. But, a variety of factors prevented the project from taking off. And Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, said at the IAC that India has no plans to join the ISS.

         Joining the ISS, though would be something prestigious and provide a boost to India's human space flight programme, would however mean financial committments which India can ill afford at this point. Also it could also raise issues relating to foreign policy. Therefore any final decision regarding India's participation in the ISS would also bring the Ministry of External Affairs into the picture.

        The ISS will continue operating till 2020, and the move has been welcomed by those nations which have partnered with it. Representative of the Japanese space agency, Jaxa, told the Washington meeting that his country has welcomed the extention of the ISS till 2020 ``because of the importance of the ISS to the country's space plans.'' A PPT presentation by Jaxa has shown that apart from a manned mission to the moon, a human landing on Mars was also on its cards.

        Representative of the European Space Agency said that ways have to be found to reduce the operational costs of the ISS. Lipkowski said that the ISS has to prove its efficiency. ``If we can prove it we can go further, if we don't, it will be a white elephant,'' he said.


       Interesting news:  Nasa's mission to Pluto, ``New Horizons,'' crossed the halfway mark on October 17 around 9 a.m. (IST) passing the halfway mark in the number of days from the launch on January 19,2006, to its encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015. In about 10 years it would have covered more than three billion miles.

       Wish u a great journey New Horizons!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sino-Pak space colloboration

       For the moment it is a sci-fi, but do not be surprised if it turns out to be a reality. After a five-day flight or so to the moon, two Indian vyomanauts touch down on the lunar surface. As they climb down the ladder carrying the Indian tri colour, who greets them? Any guess? A person from Kerala selling coconuts? No. It is a Pakistani immigration official who politely requests them for their lunar passport. After the arrival formalities are completed they are invited for a Chinese lunch or dinner by the Pak official!

       Yes, right now this is only a sci-fi. But do not be surprised if someday this scenario becomes a reality. In one of the earlier ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM).'' it was hinted in a light hearted way that the possibility a Pakistani astronaut/cosmonaut or taikonaut landing on the moon with the help of China, prior to an Indian cannot be entirely ruled out given the current geo political scenario.

        In a way this has been confirmed in a story in today's issue of the prestigious space website The writer a well known Austalian space analyst, Morris Jones, in an article entitled ``International Crew For Shenzhou,'' states: `` There's one potential partner that's rarely discussed in human space flight circles: Pakistan.''

        According to Jones' analysis strategic links between China and Pakistan are highly developed saying that both nations enjoy very good inter governmental relations. Keeping this in view he states: ``A Pakistani astronaut launched abroad Shenzhou seems quite feasible, if China wishes to offer a place,'' he writes.

        Jones has however failed to mention that China and Pakistani already has a nuke tie up and the former has helped the latter to design and develop its nuclear weapons.So, the space sector cannot be really that far off.

        ``At the moment, Pakistan has no human space flight programme and has never launched an astronaut with any other nation. It is also confronted by the rise of a human space flight programme in India. There would be strong motivations for both China and Pakistan to launch a joint mission, if only for political reasons,'' he says.

        Based on the experience of Sputnik, when the US was rudely shaken by the launch on October 4,1957, it is time New Delhi pays serious heed to statement of Jones even if it is pure speculation for the moment. New Delhi should not wake up one morning to be confronted with the headlines: ``Pak in space in Chinese spaceship.''

       It is high time that New Delhi allots the fund for India's human space flight programme. Isro has been waiting for it for quite sometime. But the complete funding of nearly Rs 13,000 crores has not happened so far regrettably. Why is New Delhi sitting over the files?  Let us not be beaten by Pakistan,

      Pakistan's space programme is handled by an organisation known as Suparco short form for Pakistan's Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission. In September 2007, when I attended the International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad, I met a group of Suparco scientists while waiting for our hotel buses. In an informal chat they said that they would be willing to team up with India in space programmes.

       After the story was published in The Times of India the next day I was unable to trace them at the hi-tech convention centre!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Journey To the Moon--------from Mysore

           Today is Vijaydashmi, a very auspicious day and I am dedicating this blog to something very close to my heart, Chandrayaan-1, and Isro with which I have enjoyed years of great friendship.

          As a kid when I was in school every summer I used to go with my dad and mom to Mysore and visit my relatives and return to my hometown, Mumbai, in the first week of June.While in Mysore I also had the opportunity to interact with my illustrious uncle, R.K.Narayan, who years later bestowed the title on me as the Sheriff of Sriharikota!!!

          Once I passed out of school and joined college, the annual summer sojourn in Mysore ended and so also over the years my links with the city and contacts with my relatives and Malgudi. In the last 30 years or so I must have gone to Mysore only twice and only for a few hours.

          But, my links revived this week for a change not through any relatives or Malgudi or something close to them, but through India's highly successful space programme especially Chandrayaan-1. I only wished I had been in Mysore this week and attended the annual Dussehra exhibition at the Palace Grounds because Isro had a major representation. The show concludes on October 20.

          Speaking to Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM), Isro chief spokesperson, S.Satish, said that the exhibition depicted the progress of Isro during the last four decades through several colourful panels in Kannada. When I asked why in Kannada, he said it helped in educating the local population particularly those coming from the rural areas.

         Though the exhibition is an annual event, this year there was a difference----there was a lot of emphasis this time on Chandrayaan-1 which triggered a considerable amount of interest among the visitors.``There was a heavy rush and each day, the figure hitting a lakh,'' he said.

         B.Guruprasad also of Isro explained that for many the Dussehra show proved to be a journey to the moon which started not at Sriharikota, but Mysore! ``We displayed a huge model of Chandrayaan-1 and panels which highlighted various achievements of this mission like for example the discovery of water,'' he said.

        Incidentally Friday October 22 marks the second anniv of the Chandrayaan launch. For my birthday also on Friday my daughter,Rimanika, said that she will try and get a T-shirt designed for me with the Moon Impact Probe---the most visible of the 11 Chandrayaan payloads. I hope she succeeds!!

         According to him, visitors literally turned moonstruck as they gazed at the model of the mooncraft which brought honour to India. I know for certain that the Chandrayaan mission has earned the title of being India's brand ambassador. Could anyone else have fitted into this prestigious role? No.

         Guru also said that there was a model of the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-1). I recall asking him to click of pix of me with the actual SRE-1 during the International Astronautical Congress 2007 in Hyderabad. This is one my prize possessions.

         At the Dussehra show in Mysore there were also models of the three-stage Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, (GSLV), the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the GSLV Mark 3 apart from video capsules. ``The brochures and booklets were in great demand and we have to cart another big set on Sunday,'' he said.
        Good show Isro and on this Vijaydashmi day let me wish the space agency all the very best and heaps of success in all its missions.

        One thing---Isro should expand its orbit beyond Bangalore and Mysore and execute a landing in other parts of the country as well frequently as a part of its public outreach programme. After all Isro itself zoomed successfully from 36,000 kms to deep space during the Chandrayaan mission! 

        Here in Mumbai we would welcome Isro with a red carpet. Just give us the time and day, Last year Isro had a pavilion at IIT's annual tech fest in Powai. It proved a hit. But for most Mumbaikars honestly it is certainly easier to fly to moon or Mars than go all the way to Powai! It must be organised somewhere in the heart of the city perhaps in colloboration with the Nehru Planetarium or the Nehru Science Centre. Just explore the possibility.

        Once again all the very very best on Vijaydashmi day!                     


Friday, October 15, 2010

Planetary Society goes to Mars

         Here is a path breaking experiment on the Russian sample return mission to Mars, Phobos-Grunt, slated for launch in 2011. It is exciting and could have a long term impact on future flights looking for life on other planets. The Mars mission is of significance to India in a way because the lander which will fly on Phobos-Grunt will be the prototype of the one on Chandrayaan-2.

        This very unusual experiment on Phobos Grunt has been mainly designed and developed by the US Planetary Society. According to the society, the plan envisages sending a collection of living organisms on a three-year-trip to Phobos, a Martian moon, and back to earth. The interesting project has been designated as LIFE,  a short form for Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. The society explains that the purpose of the experiment is to help scientists to better understand the nature of life, its robustness and ability or not to move between planets. It will focus on the possibility that life can travel from planet to planet inside rocks, blasted off by impact to land another planet surface.

        An example cited by the society is that if a rock on earth contained life and were blasted off from earth could it survive till it reached Mars?  The mission architecture stipulates that the spacecraft will land on Phobos, collect dirt and rocks from its surface and then fly back to earth. The society says that as it swoops back by earth, the spacecraft will release a capsule containing all the samples gathered on Phobos to land on earth. Attached to the capsule for the entire 34-month journey will be a small flat cylinder containing the microbes.

       The project is being executed in colloboration with the Space Research Institute, the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University, the American Type Culture Collection and the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany. The Phobos Grunt Mission, which was conceived in 1999, is a project of the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.

       Apart from the significance of the mission, it has also raised an imporant question relating to the future of India's moon missions. The lander on Phobos-Grunt is a prototype of the one which will go on India's second mission to the moon in 2013, Chandrayaan-2.

       Here is the question--Is India thinking of Chandrayaan-3, a sample return mission from the Moon based on the experience of Phobos-Grunt?




Thursday, October 14, 2010

Students do it again----and in space

        One thousand seven hundred and twenty nine days, eight hours 55 minutes and counting. Distance flown more than two billions miles. You may wonder what are these figures. Any guess? It is the length of time and distance Nasa's New Horizons mission to Pluto has flown since its launch in January 2006. It has another 1733 days to reach Pluto which is expected to be on July 14, 2015.

       The mission, the first one to Pluto, has proved that space belongs to students. And this fact was established on October 10,2010--the space month. On this day, when the international space week was drawing to a close, a student project broke the world record for flying the maximum distant in space---beyond two billion miles.

       What is known as the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (SDC) on board the New Horizons mission flew that massive distance past the orbit of Uranus.The main role of this instrument is to study space dust which is expected to advance one's understanding of the solar system, its origin and evolution.

       It is the first science payload on a planetary mission designed, tested and operated by students. It was planned by the students of the University of Colorado's Laboratory For Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Initially, there were 20 students involved in this project which increased as the programme expanded. Six months after the launch of New Horizons, SDC was renamed after Venetia Burney in honour of the English school girl who named Pluto.

       New Horizons will be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and and its moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra.


       Talking about students and space, the man who is sparing no efforts to promote the involvement of the younger generation in space celebrates his birthday today.

       He is none other than APJ Abdul Kalam. His dream of launching a student satellite will hopefully become a reality in December 2010, when YouthSat is launched--a joint Indo-Russian venture.

       Happy Birthday Dr Kalam. Wish u great starry days ahead.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Countdown to Gagarin 50

            T-six months. This is a countdown not of a real rocket launch, but that of an event which opened an important chapter in world space history. It is the 50th anniv of the the first human space flight. The person who embarked on this challenging mission, which lasted for 108 minutes, was a young Russian pilot, Yuri Gagarin. The date was April 12, 1961.

           April 12,2011. This day will mark the 50th anniv of this flight, and it is six months from today. The countdown for the much-awaited celebrations has started which will aim to promote the importance of space among the younger generation. As the countdown clock is ticking away, organisations all over the world are being formed to celebrate the event. A notable example is YuriGagarin50 which has been established in the UK with an informative website.It says: ``This is a notable anniversary in its own right, but also a significant opportunity to raise the profile of space in the UK.''

           According to the website, the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight will provide a very strong `Gagarin hook' to capture attention which can be subsequently directed in other directions to the benefit of the wider UK space community. Some of the aims of YuriGagarin50 are:-

          * Showcase UK and Russian achievements in space science, technology and engineering.
          * Excite and engage the public with space and the advancements derived from it, using Gagarin's flight as a catalyst.
          * Promote sustainable colloboration between UK and Russia, science and technology and culture.
          * Stimulate celebration and recognition of the global significance of Gagarin and his flight--``the first person in space, the first person to see the earth as a planet.''

          This enterprising organisation was launched on June 10,2010, by Helen Sherman, Britain's first astronaut who visited the Russian Mir space station in 1991.

           India is now planning a manned space flight in 2015. This of course depends on whether the government will give its final `go' for this mission. Assuming that it gets the green signal and the flight takes off from Sriharikota, who can deny that it had its early beginnings with the launch of Gagarin on April 12,1961? That is not all. Gagarin also laid a strong foundation for Indo-Russian space ties when he visited India in November 1961.

          With the countdown in progress for the 50th anniv celebrations of his flight, is it not time to establish organisations in India similar to YuriGagarin50?  To celebrate the anniv in a memorable way, they can explore the possibility of joining hands with the Russian diplomatic missions and science popularisation groups. If this plan materialises, it will undoubtedly go a long way in exciting the younger generation and inspire them to study science and maths and choose a career with Isro and participate in India's inter planetary missions.

           As it is done with various other events marking annivs, commercial houses should think of manufacturing Gagarin T-shirts, caps, cups and balls pens. Efforts should also be made to market Gagarin's famous autobiography, ``The Road To Stars.'' I have been trying to obtain a copy, but have not succeeded. Can anyone suggest how I can get it?

           Let us look forward to great Gagarin days ahead.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Russian lander on Chandrayaan 2

        With three years left for the launch of Chandrayaan-2--India's second unmanned scientific mission to the moon--details of this flight have started emerging.

       The most recent one is about the lander which is the sole Russian contribution to the Rs 425-crore Chandrayaan-2 mission. On September 14, 2010, Igor Mitrofanov, a landers mission scientist gave a presentation about the lander at the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) which was held in the US on September 14--almost a month ago.

        The original plan of the project envisaged Russia supplying both the lander as well as 50 kg rover. But in May 2010, it backed out of the rover deal mainly because of time constraints and also financial problems. Also according to Isro, Russia wanted to focus on the payloads which will be put on its lunar lander.

        In Russia, the Chandrayaan-2 has been designated as Luna-Recourse and the flight is slated for take off in 2013. Some of the highlights of the LEAG presentation are:

        * It will be a polar lander.which in several ways resembles the Luna-Glob lander. Luna-Glob is Russia's unmanned mission to the moon which will lift off in 2012.

        * Both have maniulators. But, the difference is that while the Luna Glob lander has a drilling system, the Chandrayaan-2 lander has a rover.

        According to his presentation, the main scientific tasks of the the landers are the investigation of the composition of the moon's subsurface and probing ot the interaction between cosmic plasma and surface and what are known as processes of exosphere at lunar poles.

        Some of the payloads on the lander include a radio beacon, tv for field of operations, an imaging spectrometer, an instrument for measuring the dust and another one for studying the seismic activity on the moon. The prototype of the radio beacon transmitter will be flown in the Phobos soil return mission in 2012. Phobos is one of the moon's of Mars.Similarly, another payload known as the gas analystic complex will also be tested on the Phobos-Soil-Return mission.

         The lunar infra red spectrometer will measure oxygen and hydrogen and water content in the polar region both on the surface as well as within a shallow sub surface. Lasma or the Laser Mass Analyser will evaluate soil samples which will also be tested on the Phobos mission. Likewise, adron which will study the composition of the subsurface regolith will also be tested on the Phobos flight as well as Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory to be launched next year.

         The radiometer-thermometer will measure the radiation from the sub surface. and the dust detector to be evaluated on the Phobos flight. will assess the impacts from dust grains. It will also detect micro meteorites. Lina, a detector of charge particles, and Aries, an energy mass spectrometer of ions,will examine the interaction of solar wind with the lunar surface at the poles. The prototype of this instrument will be flown on the Phobos mission.

          So far bulk of data about Chandrayaan-2 is coming from private sources. It is time Isro open a dedicated website about this mission.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Insat 4b and the Chinese worm

        Is there a war in space?  Post Cold War there was one between the US and the former Soviet Union. Is there one now between India and China? 

       If at all there is such a space war between both the Asian space giants it started on July 7,2010, exactly five days before the launch of Cartosat-2b, when India's powerful communication satellite, Insat-4b, got crippled on account of a power problem. This resulted in 12 of its 24 transponders not operating.

        Isro swung into action and initiated a probe to find out what went wrong? Three months have passed and there is no official word as yet from Isro to what could have caused the mysterious malfunction of this satellite ,which has been operating flawlessly since its launch in March 2007.

       However, on Monday, cyber warfare exoert, Jeffrey Carr, has raised the possibility in his blog published in Forbes, of China striking at our satellite through the deadly Stuxnet internet worm. But, he has said that there was no conclusive proof regarding this.

       Based on Carr's speculation space experts have not totally dismissed the possibility of China trying to cripple India's space programmes. The reason: India is an acknowledged emerging global space power with a string of successes which may prove a threat to China. Infact Carr himself has reported in his blog that ``China and India are competing with each other to see who will be the first to land another astronaut on the moon. China has announced a date of 2025, while India is claiming 2020,'' he has written.

      Isro has scotched suggestions that India was in a race with China to land a person on the moon. That is not all, Carr is also unaware that unlike China, India has so far not laid out a clear road map regarding its future lunar missions post Chandrayaan-2. This is a sorry state of affairs. So, the date of India putting an Indian on the moon, which Carr says is 2020, has not yet been firmed up.

       When ``Beyond Moon and Mars'' contacted Isro, it ruled out any chances of the Stuxnet worm striking at Insat-4b since it does not have what is known as a programme logic controller (PLC). An Isro official said that the Stuxnet worm only attacks PLC's. The role of the PLC is to control the entire ``logic of the spacecraft. Instead the Insat-4b has its indigenously designed software. But two retired officials of Isro's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendra Giri in Tamilnadu claim that Insat-4b had S7-400 PLC manufactured by Siemens.

       So, the question is there is a space war between India and China?  My friend Pradeep Mohandas, a space expert and secy of the India chapter of the Moon Society speculates that China's own Chinasat-6a suffered a helium pressurisation problem after launch. Pradeep wonders by any chance if China struck its own satellite with the Stuxnet worm too, merely to cover up its attack on Insat-4b. Again this is just pure guess work!




Sunday, October 10, 2010

Twins in space

         You can call it a milestone in space history. It will be the first of its kind.  It is a space event which one is looking forward to. A family affair.

          For the first time in world space history, a pair of twins will be at the International Space Station (ISS).  They are Scott and Mark Kelly, born on February 21,1964. In a way it will be a  birthday coincidenence which both of them will never forget. The twin spacemen will team up in orbit six days later when Nasa's space shuttle Endeavour under the command of Mark Kelly lifts off from the Kennedy Space Centre on February 27,2011.

         On Sunday, an upgraded Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts--one of them Scott Kelly--and its commander docked with the ISS. After a successful docking, the hatches were opened at about 8.45 a.m. (IST).

         Veteran CBS space correspondent, William Harwood, quotes Mark Kelly saying in a light hearted way impersonating Scott: ``Hey Mark, this is Scott. Six months is a longtime in space. So thanks for switching spots with me. Just hoping I can remember how to fly that space shuttle!'' he said jocularly to his brother who reached the ISS on Sunday morning.

          When the Soyuz docked Scott's daughter, Samantha, was celebrating her birthday on October 9---incidentally she shares it with my late uncle, Swaminathan, a space enthu and also India's spaceport, Sriharikota. It reminds me of my association with Chandrayaan-1 which will be observing the second anniv of its super launch on October 22,2010.

          The Soyuz TMA-OIM which carried the three to the ISS is a digital spacecraft. Vitaly Lopota, president of RSC Energia, the manufactuers of the spacecraft, has stated that the flight was cent per cent automatic.

          Here is another first--two days ago when the hi tech Soyuz blasted off from Baikonour cosmodrome with Scott Kelly, his brother Mark was present at the spaceport and witnessed the grand lift off. He told Russia TV that watching a rocket launch is always an exciting experience. He was quoted as saying that it was incredible and exciting to see a rocket take off with his brother!

         Space shuttle, Endeavour---incidentally this will be its last flight--will have as its primary payload a physics experiment which will be mounted on the ISS. Called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer designated as AMS-02, it is a particle physics experiment module. In layman's terms, scientists will use this instrument to study the formation of the universe.

          Apart from the physics experiment, Endeavour will deliver spare parts, including two S-band communications antennas and a high pressure gas tank.

          Looking forward to the space family reunion.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sino-US space ties and India.

        With a new global space alliance on the cards, the question is what will be India's response? It will be of particicular significance to India because the alliance consists of the US, Russia and China---all three having an interest in this country. Now, a stronger Sino-US space colloboration is on the cards, with Nasa'a adminstrator, Charles Bolden's visit to China between October 16 and 21.

       Though the exact area of the Sino-US tie up is yet to be announced, Space News, a well known space web site, speculates that one of the areas of possible co-operation could be joint manned space missions and also China's participation in the International Space Station (ISS) programme. Infact last week when I was watching the IAC-2010 heads of states presentation on Youtube, space agency leaders were asked by the delegates about their response to China's participation in the ISS. They appeared non committal or made only some general and vague observations saying very diplomatically that it was a ``good idea,'' and so on. It seemed that they were unsure about China's plans and preferred not to be in its bad books---including a mighty space power like the US!

       But, White House officials have been quoted as saying that the issue of a firm Sino-Us space relationship is very complex and challenging because it touches on critical issues like more transparency in the Chinese space programme and non-proliferation questions.

       Speculation is that Bolden's visit can perhaps lay the initial ground for an American astronaut to fly in the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft during the next five years. The Europeans and Russians are willing to co-operate with China at the ISS. One wonders whether, therefore, whether Bolden's forthcoming trip to Beijing will result in an US foreign policy shift.
        Bolden's visit infact comes on the eve of US President Barack Obama's trip to India in the first week of November. In this background Indian space and political analysts are asking whether the President's visit will possibly result in an announcement of a further enhancement of Indo-Us space ties. A tie up in a manned mission seems definately out of the question with just two Nasa space shuttle space flights left. Where else could there be colloboration? Further relaxation of restrictions on the import of dual use items for Indian space programmes, the launching of US commercial satellites from India and carrying US scientific instruments on board Chandrayaan-2. Based on the experience of Chandrayaan-1, however, it is hoped that the last one does not materialise.



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Maven--Mission To Mars

          On October 4 2010, when nations were inaugurating the 11th World Space Week, and also observing the 53rd anniversary of the Sputnik launch, an event occured which marked an important milestone in Nasa's unmanned mission to Mars.

         The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, Maven for short, passed what is known as the mission confirmation review on October 4. It was initially selected by Nasa on September 15,2008, and the passing of the mission confirmation review in layman's term could mean that the space agency has given its final `go' for the development and launch of the flight. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft and handle flight operations.

          The significance of the 438 million dollar Maven mission, slated for launch between November 18 and December 2013 from the Kennedy Space Centre, can be gauged by a statement by its principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, who said: ``We've never sent a spacecraft just to study its (Mars) atmosphere. Where did the atmosphere go?'' he has asked. He said that Mars was once habitable. The mission will try and find out why it has turned inhabitable. The primary role of the flight is to study Martian atmosphere and climate change.

          Project scientist, Joseph Grebowsky, has been quoted as saying that Maven will examine ways the ``sun is swiping the Martian atmosphere.'' According to him, the lead suspect in the loss of the atmosphere is the sun mainly through its solar wind---a million miles per hour stream of charged particles.

         Images from Mars' surface indicate that there was liquid water present which would have needed a warmer and thicker atmosphere sometime in the past. Keeping this scenario, the Maven spacecraft will probe the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet and its interactions with the sun to learn how the Martian atmosphere behaves in the context of solar activity. With this information scientists will be able to recreate the history of Mars atmosphere focussing on what it was and what happened to it.

         Maven's design will be based on those of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

         The University of Colorado, Boulder, the University of California, Berkeley and the Goddard Space Flight Centre will each build a suite of instruments for the spacecraft. In all there will be three science instruments. After launch in November-December 2013, the spacecraft will fly into the Martian atmosphere on September 16,2014.

         The launch will take place the same year India's second mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' and China's third lunar mission, ``Chang'e-3'' will lift off. One thing--a recent article by none other than director of the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory, J.N.Goswami, said that if India launches a mission to Mars its role would be to study its atmosphere.

         I wonder what will be the difference between the Maven and Indian the mission to the Red Planet?             .

World Space Week?

        Annually October 4 and October 10 is known as the World Space Week when events are organised all over the world to promote space, especially among school children.

       It was on October 4,1957, that the world zoomed into the space era with the launch of Sputnik in Russia. On October 10,1967 there was the entry into force of the ``Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the moon and other celestial bodies,''

       While the celebrations are organised under the banner of the ``World Space Week,'' would it be inappropriate to say that in India it can be known as the ``States' Space Week.'' ? I do not think so. The reason: the states are organising their own programmes without any national perspective. For example, an organisation like the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvanathanapuram which is a part of Isro talks of  ``World Space Week'' only in Kerala since it is located in Kerala's capital. VSSC after all does not belong to Kerala. but is a prestigious national institution. The theme of this year's celebration is ``Mysteries Of The Cosmos.''

        Why could not the VSSC have planned the events months in advance, teamed up with local scientific bodies and organised programmes at an all-India level to stimulate a greater interest in space?  For example, in Mumbai it could have colloborated with organisations like the Nehru Planetarium, the Nehru Science Centre and the Tifr to celebrate the ``World Space Week.''  How many Mumbai school kids have heard of the ``World Space Week?'' Very few unfortunately. A recent experience makes me feel that VSSC on its own or the parent body,Isro, should explore the possibility of linking up with the National Council of Science Museums to organise the ``World Space Week,'' at a national level in future. I wonder if the Pune-based National Space Society and the Panchukula-based International Space Society have organised anything?

         Space excites and interests practically everybody. If VSSC can think of ways of holding the ``World Space Week'' celebrations at a national level, the public will be eternally grateful to this highly respected national space laboratory. Think of it VSSC!

          Last year, which marked the first ``World Space Week'' celebrations post Chandrayaan, India was among the five nations which had organised the largest number of programmes--the figure being 88. The highest number of programmes were organised by Turkey (147); Romania (129); Slovakia (56) and Czech Republic (47).

         A total of 8191 persons attended the programmes in India. According to the ``World Space Week'' report the celebrations in India last year took off to a great start and the space for astronomy theme struck the right cord among the students. Twelve states were involved in astronomy education. Public activities included painting competitions, water rocketry, lectures and film shows.

        The World Space Week was declared in 1999 by the UN General Assembly in response to a recommendation from the Third UN Conference On the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (Unispace-3). The goal of the ``World Space Week'' is to celebrate the contribution of space science and technology for the benefit of mankind.

         In 2009, the ``World Space Week'' celebrated its 10th anniv with events in about 55 countries. Its theme was space for education.



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chang'e-2 crossed important milestone and enters lunar orbit

       Global lunar exploration programme created history on Wednesday when China's second moon mission, Chang'e-2, successfully entered the lunar orbit. This is the first time in the history of any moon exploration programme that a spacecraft has entered the lunar orbit just five days after launch. Chang'e 2 was launched on October 1. In contrast Chang'e 1 took about a fortnight to enter the lunar orbit.

       According to Chinese national TV after 112 hours of flight, Chang'e-2 applied its brakes about 100 kms away from the moon and the process lasted for 33 minutes. The reduction in speed allowed the mooncraft to be captured by the moon's gravitational field. If there had been a slight deviation in this critical process, the mission would have flopped. The lunar orbit insertion is a nail biting moment and those in the mission operations control room heaved a sigh of relief when the process was completed successfully.

       It may be recalled that when Chandrayaan-1 executed the lunar orbit insertion successfully on November 8,2008, vadas, idlis and dosas and coffee were distributed in the Chandrayaan mission operations control room in Bangalore. About 30 per cent of earlier moon missions of the former Soviet Union and the US failed at this point.

        Chinese space scientists have been quoted as saying that the Chang'e-2 was able to reach the moon orbit in such a short period of time mainly because of the powerful Long March 3-C rocket. Do not be surprised--this could perhaps be a test run for reducing the flight time by China between earth and Mars.Infact during the q-a session at the just concluded International Astronautical Congress in Prague Nasa adminstrator, Charles Bolden, said that plans were underway to cut down the transit time to Mars by employing new propulsion methods.

        Having reached the lunar orbit successfully, Chang'e-2 will be orbiting the moon at an altitude of 100 kms picking up scientific data, zooming down as low as 15 kms to image the lunar surface. This is also considered a technological breakthrough.

        The TV network also stated that on Tuesday all equipment on board Chang'e 2 have been activated with the ground stations receiving the first set of data. The equipment on board detected a lot of information such as gamma radiation levels.

        With a six-month life span, one of the primary roles of the Chang'e-2 mission is to identify a suitable landing zone on the moon for Chang'e-3 slated for launch in 2013. Chang'e-3 will make a soft landing and is expected to have a rover.

         God Speed!