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? Space.com, 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.  .


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