Monday, January 31, 2011

Eight years ago today.

          February 1 2003 was a Saturday. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) who was a journalist with the Mumbai edition of The Times of India (TOI) left office as usual around 8 p.m. and walked towards the bus stop at Hutatma Chowk to take a bus home.

          Around 9 p.m. BMM reached home and Usha, BMM's wife, said that she had just received a telephone call from her friend, Roshan, who was watching TV, that space shuttle Columbia with Kalpana Chawla and six others on board had lost contact with the mission control centre at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Usha also recalled Roshan telling her that all attempts to contact Columbia by the mission control had failed. It was clear at that moment that the worst had happened to Columbia.

         BMM grabbed a quick dinner and rushed back to office. Resident editor, Dina Vakil, immediately asked BMM to collect the max info through its sources and contribute to the coverage of the Columbia tragedy focussing mainly of course on Kalpana Chawla. BMM had done a number of reports about Kalpana and managed to access the exclusive interview with Kalpana which it had done in December 1997. This was published in the following day's edition of the TOI.

         When BMM reached home around 1 a.m. on Sunday February 2 Usha said that our daughter, Rimanika, was deeply affected by the death of Kalpana and she broke down, crying uncontrollably for a long time. Rimu learnt about the disaster only around 10 p.m. on Feb 1 because she was spending the evening with her friend.

         BMM recalls that in May 1995 Usha and BMM were at the Johnson Space Centre on a tour. When BMM inquired about Kalpana, the young tour guide, smiled, blinked and admitted that she had not heard about her!  Nothing really surprising. However, she requested BMM to give her name in writing saying that she would come back once the interview was firmed up. Yes, she honoured her committment and sure it was firmed up. But when? The very day Usha and BMM were heading from Lexington near Boston to New York's JFK International Airport to catch the return Air India flight to Mumbai.

         But the opportunity finally arrived in December 1997, a month after Kalpana's maiden voyage in the Columbia, BMM managed to get a tele interview with Kalpana. Prior to the interview there was a lot of correspondence with the Nasa public relations office. The interview was fixed and Nasa officials calculated the time and said it would be only for 10 minutes starting at 1 a.m. (IST)!  It was a Thursday.

         The TOI telephone operater who was on night duty had to be requested to stay back to provide the connection to Houston. BMM reached office around 12.45 a.m. and asked the operator for the connection. The night shift editorial team were wondering why BMM had returned to office so late!   In two minutes the telephone rang in the small room in which BMM worked. BMM picked up the receiver. The voice at the other end said: ``Hi. This is Kalpana Chawla!''

         BMM introduced itself and after a brief exchange of pleasantries the interview started. Kalpana most politely and patiently answered all the questions including about the fact that there were complaints about her performance. What was supposed to be a 10-minute interview lasted for nearly an hour.

        The next day which was a Friday, BMM filed the interview and submitted it to Dina for her evaluation. She called me and said it was extremely boring because she could not understand anything!!!  Despite the fact that she found it boring she splashed it on the front page of TOI the next day which was a Saturday. The interview made a splash when top space scientists from all over India were attending an Aeronautical Society of India meeting at what was then Hotel Juhu Centaur. The scientists said that they liked the interview very much.

         Years later when BMM was in New Delhi with Usha and Rimu along with Usha's brother, Ramki, from Singapore to attend a ceremony where BMM's dad received the Padma Vibhsuhan. BMM was staying at the Asiad village and knew that Kalpana's family--her mom--were staying somewhere nearby.It  inquired with the driver who asked BMM to wait and returned in a minute. He asked BMM to accompany him, and took it to the next block of flats and rang the door bell. Yes, it was Kalpana's house. Though BMM had gone without advance info, everyone at home was most polite. BMM took her mom's autograph on all the books BMM had purchased about Kalpana.
         After a few days, we visited her sister, Sunita Chowdhary, at her flat in New Delhi and took a no of pics. Sunita gave a number of CD's about her celebrated sister. That time there was a plan that BMM would do a bio of Kalpana, but it never materialised. 

         Nehru Planetarium had organised a meeting with the family members of the ill fated crew members of Columbia which BMM covered for the TOI. But, for reasons unknown Kalpana's husband was not present.

         This is story of BMM and Kalpana.

          Now BMM is attempting to get a fiction written by a space buff Danial Guiteras called ``Launch On Need,'' which is about the Columbia disaster.

          BMM is heading for Strand Book Stall,


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Look Before U Leap

      It is now clear that Washington has not given up its attempts to make India a partner of the International Space Station (ISS).

      What better proof of this than a statement of assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O Blake saying:`` We are seeking additional ways to collaborate on future lunar missions, the international space station, human space flight, and data sharing. I hope that our private sectors will now have the opportunity to develop new avenues of cooperation in the space realm and build on our achievements to further improve the livelihoods of our populations, he said. He was addressing a meeting at the Syracuse University.

      As stated by ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' earlier India has to tread cautiously while responding to US's proposal to be a partner of the ISS. Any hasty decision will only result in India being controlled by US policies as it has happened to some extent in the nuclear sector.

      That is not all. Also when Blake said that colloboration is being explored in future lunar missions, there is a degree of ambiguity in this statement. Which Indian lunar missions is he talking about? Atleast for the moment there is no Nasa payload in India's second mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' tentatively slated for lift off in 2013.''  Or, for that matter there are no foreign scientific instruments on this flight which is a joint Indo-Russian mission. Also there is no indication moreover of a third India mission to the moon.

    , With regards to human space flight, what type of teaming up is US contemplating with India? On the American side the space shuttle is being phased out. And New Delhi is yet to give the formal `go' for an Indian human space flight programme.

       According to SpaceDaily, a space-related website the  Obama administration has said that United States is hoping to become 'close partner' of India in space exploration.

      The recent removal of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) from the US Commerce Department's Entity List is an indication that Washington will no longer treat India's space program as a target, but as a close partner in space exploration, Blake said.
     Blake said that the possibilities of cooperation between the India and the US in space, to advance scientific knowledge and human welfare, are without boundaries and limits.
    Paraphrasing former ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair words that India's space program can only be successful when it can produce benefits - material change-for Indian citizens, Blake said: "Indian farmers will see the fruits of our collaboration as U.S. and Indian space scientists work together on climate and weather forecasting for agriculture, navigation, resource mapping, research and development, and capacity building."
   "Our experts have developed enhanced monsoon forecasting that will begin to transmit detailed forecasts to farmers, beginning with the 2011 monsoon season. India also is an emerging leader in earth observation, with the second highest number of earth observation satellites in orbit. American fishing fleets could increase their catch thanks to the collection of tidal data as part of this initiative," he added.
    If it is a colloboration with the US the message is ``look before u leap!''

India to launch Estonia

        Here is something  interesting which ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' came to know through secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas. Thanks Pradeep.

        Among the nations which have selected India to launch its satellite is Estonia.  This country which gained independence from the Soviet Union is close to Finland and BMM found that even this tiny nation which is hardly hits the headldines places a lot of importance on science.

       Ask a school kid where Estonia is and do not be surprised if he or she has not even heard about it.

       Estonia's scientific goals include journeying into space. Right now it does not have any rocket programme, but it is designing and developing a satellite. 

       Interestingly, once again it is the students who are working on this project. According to a news report, the satellite is being developed by a group of Tartu and Tallinn students to test a solar sail invented by Helsinki University professor Pekka Janhunen,

      Solar sails are gaining importance these days because once this technology is proved, it can increase the payload capacity. Japan and the US have launched solar sails and more space faring countries are planning similar flights keeping in view its advantage.

      Mart Noorma, a teacher at the University of Tartu, says the best offer for launching the satellite has come from India. The launching would cost 60,000 euros, said Noorma.
      The satellite weighs one kilogram to save on the volume - the biggest limit on cost.  

     Tentatively it is slated for launch in 2012.

     The information comes at a time when hectic preparations are underway at Sriiharikota for the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (Pslv) carrying to two satellites which involves students---YouthSat, a dream project of APJ Abdul Kalam, and X Sat made by the students of NTU university Singapore. This of course will be with the main payload which is Resourcesat. Provisionally, Isro officials have indicated that the lift off could be around February 20.2011.

     Sure, we can look forward to more student sat projects in the coming days.

     God Speed.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Congrats Kounotori ! U have done it.

                Congrats Kounotori on successfully berthing at the International Space Station (ISS) early on Friday morning. It was launched on January 22,2011, from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (Jaxa)  Tanegashima Space Centre.

                According to Jaxa, with the successful berthing, Kounotori has successfully overcome the most critical point of the mission.

                Jaxa president, Keiji Tachikawa, in a message said: ``We will do our utmost to successfully complete all the tasks of the mission, including cargo transfer, departure from ISS and re entry to the atmosphere.''  It will remain at the space station for several weeks before reentering the atmosphere and burning up in a southern part of the Pacific Ocean.

                Kounotori, an unmanned spacecraft to ferry cargo to the space station, was initially captured by the station's robotic arm. Seven hours later it was berthed to the station. Cargo from the pressurised section of Kounotori will be first moved to the station followed by items in the unpressurised areas of the spacecraft.

                Before Kounotori departs, unwanted items from the space station will be shifted to the spacecraft.

                Yes, it promises to be a period of action at the ISS. A few hours before Kounotori berthed early on Friday morning, a Russian cargo spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonour cosmodrome towards the space station on Thursday. It carried 1918 pounds of propellants, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 3080 pounds of spare parts and supplies.

                That is not all. European Space Agency's automated transfer vehicle, Johannes Kepler, is now all set to be launched to the space station on February 15,2011. The spacecraft has gone through simulation tests at the ATV control centre in Toulouse, France. Right now it is a `go' for launch.

                 All these flights are taking place against the background of the phasing out of Nasa's space shuttle in June 2011. These new missions to the space station are moreover unmanned once again triggering a debate between the advantages and disadvantages between manned and unmanned flights.

                Yes folks it is all action at the ISS. 

A somewhat unnoticed development which took place seven months ago

       Seven months ago an important development took place in the world of military space technology.

       This significant event went largely unnoticed, and it involved the office of the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

       On June 30 2010, the NRO placed in the public domain a 182-page document with the word secret deleted about the well known Corona spy satellite project which provided data mainly about China and Russia.

       In the preface, the fact-filled document explains that in the decades following the conclusion of the second world war, US defence planners were severely hampered by Ussr's (former) Iron Curtain `` which it says `` stood as an almost impenetrable barrier to routine information-gathering.''

       It says that the war in Korea, the appearance of the Soviet long-range Bison bomber and the test of a Soviet hydrogen bomb were a matter of concern. Keeping this in view D.Eisenhower, who was then President of the US decided to employ space technology first to penetrate the Soviet Iron Curtain. This resulted in the development of the Discoverer satellite for obtaining scientific data about the upper atmosphere, and the Corona satellite which would be used for photographic reconnaissance.

      The document, or shall we say book published in November 1987 includes several pics taken by the spy satellite of defence establishments in the USSR and elsewhere, and data of the defence department and the CIA.

      ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  has not read the document, but only gone thru it cursorily, It plans to print it and convert it into a book form before reading it. Even a cursory glance indicates that it is extremely informative, but at the same time pretty heavy.

       Still it promises to make an exciting reading and sure BMM looks forward to it.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The story of the first Chinese astronaut----Yang Liwei

           It is a matter of irony. China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, was scared of heights when he was a child, but rose to become the first man in space in his country eight years ago. He took off on October 15,2003, flew 500,000 kms in his 21-hour space flight which launched China into the manned space programme.

          This is revealed in his recently-published autobiography, ``The Long March To Space.'' ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' is keen on obtaining a copy of this book, but is also aware that it will not be easy since Chinese books are not readily available at Indian bookstores. Anyway BMM will keep hunting for it.

           Based on the book, China Daily recently interviewed him  He is now the deputy director of China's Manned Space Engineering Office. In the interview he said: ``The book is my story and our story: the story of my fellow astronauts and those who have devoted themselves to the country's space programme.'' According to him, prior to the launch he and his fellow taikonauts (as astronauts and cosmonauts are known in China), were literally unknown.

           Recalls Yiwei: `` When my mother asked me to fetch sweet potatoes from a four-metre tall wooden shed roof, I became so nervous I broke into cold sweat and could'nt do it. It was my parents who took every opportunity to develop my courage until I climbed a 30-metre pine tree one day,'' he said.

          According to him, the toughest part of his life was in 1993 when he learned to fly a fighter. In 1996 having logged 1350 flying hours, Yang participated in a screening process for selection of astronauts. Out of the 1500 candidates, he was one of the 14 selected to train at the astronaut centre in Beijing.``After endless rounds of overloaded training, I arrived at one rule. When you hold on till you think you can't you are close to success,'' he said.

          His selection was made public only the day before the historic flight. In his book he has described what he saw in the interior of the space capsule. ``What I saw is testimony to the advance of China's manned space technology. I jotted down a line in my log to express my excitement and pride,'' he says.




Yuri Gagarin--50th anniv of first manned flight kicks off in Mumbai

        The first of the events to mark the 50th anniv of the historical flight of Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961, has kicked off in Mumbai.

        It is an exhibition of 42 pictures which focusses mainly on the 108-minute flight inaugurating the era of human space exploration. The venue is the Cultural Centre of Russia at Pedder Road. The informative show will remain open till Thursday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

        For space buffs like BMM the pictorial exhibit was a real treat. There are a number of pictures about Gagarin's visit to New Delhi and meeting former PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, but none about his Mumbai tour. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' recalled standing at the Mahalakshmi temple junction as a school boy and waving to Gagarin as he passed by in a convey.

       It was at this very spot BMM stood eight years later on October 25,1969, along with several hundred people which included the father of the Indian nuclear bomb, Raja Ramanna, and his daughter, Nirupa, and waving to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, when they came to Mumbai!

       Coming back to the exhibition, there is a picture of the house where Gagarin was born and a few with the chief Soviet (former) rocket scientist, Sergei Korolev. It is a wonderful exhibition and BMM wishes that it can visit it daily as though it was a temple. Centre officials told BMM that the pictures were obtained from Moscow and will now remain with the Centre's archives.

       BMM came to know about the exhibition when it was attending an international Space Climate 4 conference at Calangute in Goa last week,. If BMM had been in Mumbai on the inaugural day, it would have done a report for The Times of India. It was inaugurated by my good friend, Piyush Pandey, director of Nehru Planetarium. On its part if the Cultural Centre Of Russia had given wider publicity about the exhibition, more people could have attended it, Schools in Mumbai have reopened after the Christmas and New Year break. If the Centre had contacted them in advance, school children would have attended the exhibition in large numbers which would have undoubtedly proved a very educative experience for them.

      Many school children today are starry eyed and anything to do with space attracts and interests them instantly. They will never miss an opportunity to attend an exhibition on Yuri Gagarin, who is a hero and role model for several of them-----including BMM!!!!!!!!!!

      Less than 90 days are now left for the main celebration in India on April 12,2011. BMM understands that India's first cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, will be speaking at the Centre's function in New Delhi. Efforts are also underway to get him to Mumbai too. Sharma is the most appropriate choice because he was a part of the Indo-Soviet manned spaceflight project in April 1984.

      The countdown for the main event has been initiated. We are eagerly awaiting the launch.





Sunday, January 23, 2011

Action at Sriharikota

      If one goes by the statement of Isro chairman, R.Radhakrishnan, last week at an international conference on Contemprorary Trends in Optics and Optoelectronics at Thiruvanathanapuram, Sriharikota will see action in the next three months. There will be one launch each month between February and April.

      In his presidential address he said: ``The coming months are going to be eventful with three major milestones to be achieved.''

      The three are:-

      * A Pslv (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle--PSLV-C-16) is already assembled at Shar (Sriharikota High Altitude Range). Resourcesat-2 and YouthSat are getting ready for shipment to Shar. Both these satellites carry a host of advance optical payloads, he said. What about Singapore's X-Sat? Even if it does not have an optical payload, atleast a referance could have been made about it.

       * Pslv-C-17 assembly would commence soon for a Geo stationary transfer orbit mission to launch GSat-12, a communication satellite. This will be the third time a Pslv will fly on a GTO mission; the first was when it placed in orbit Kalpana-1 in September 2002 and the second was during the Chandrayaan-1 flight in October 2008. . Infact the launch of Kalpana-1, a meteorological satellite, was described as a dry run for Chandrayaan-1.``This would be followed by a series of four Pslvs and flight testing of our Indian cryogenic stage after due tests on ground. Second static testing of S-200 is on the anvil,'' he told the participants at the conference.

      * Another communication satellite,Gsat-8 is getting ready for launch on board Ariane-5 in April-May 2011.  The launch will be from the European spaceport of Kourou.

      * Risat-1, a microwave remote sensing satellite, meteorological satellite, Insat-3d, communication satellites such as Gsat-7 and Gsat-10 and two Indo-French joint missions--Megha-Tropiques and Saral, ``are our commitment for next year. ``  ``We need to launch one of the Irness (Indian regional navigation satellite system) satellites by 2012 and gear up for launching Chandrayaan-2 by 2013. We are embarking on newer vistas, opened up by challenges in climate change studies, satellite navigation and national imperatives,'' he said.

     A significant remark in his presentation is that Isro has to gear up for launching the second Indian moon mission BY 2013. Please note he did not say in 2013 or indicate that it will be between 2013 and 2015. He has used the word BY which means that it could be even next year. Is this possible? ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  feels it is doubtful considering the uncertaintly relating to the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.

     Surprisingly, there is no mention of two other important missions. These are Astrosat, India's first dedicated astronomy satellite, and Aditya, the country's first mission to the sun. BMM will provide a detailed report about Aditya soon following an interaction with two scientists connected with this project at Calangute in Goa recently.

     Also he has made no committment about the launch of the advanced version of the Gslv-Mark 3 rocket which has the capability to place in orbit four tonne class of communication satellites.

     We look forward to the details about these missions soon.    

A week of major space milestones---NanoSail D2 deployed

                 It was a week of major space milestones. On Thursday---two days prior to the launch of Kounotori-Japan's unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station--Nasa's first solar sail designated as NanoSail D2 deployed its 100 square foot polymer sail in low earth orbit and is operating as planned.

                 A project of mainly Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Centre, it was launched on November 19,2010, as a payload of a microsatellite, FastSat. The solar sail was successfully ejected from FastSat a week later and is expected to remain in low earth orbit between 70 and 120 days depending upon atmospheric conditions.

                Weighing four kgs, the primary aim of the mission is to demonstrate the use of solar power for space flight. The advantage of using solar power is that it would mean less propellants which transalates into having more payload in the long run.  Additonally, it will also show how a compact solar sail boom can be deployed successfully.

                In plain terms, solar sails use sunlight to propel vehicles through space much like sailboats rely on wind to push through the water. They propel a spacecraft by relying on energy from the sun. The sail constantly captures streaming solar particles with giant sails built from light weight reflective material. Over time, the spacecraft builds momentum from these particles' energy to provide thrust and travel in space.

                That is not all. According to Nasa, the mission results could be used on future large spacecraft missions to aid in deorbiting space debris created by decommissioned satellites without using propellants.

                Nasa attempted its first solar sail launch in August 2008, but it did not succeed because of the failure of the Falcon rocket,

                The world's first solar sail was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) named Ikaros (Interplanetary Kites Craft Accelerated by Radiation Of The Sun). On December 2010, seven months after its launch in May 2010, it passed by Venus at a distance of about 80,800 kms thus completing its planned mission. It then flew into its extended operation phase.

                The days ahead perhaps could see more space missions being launched with solar sails.

                Isro anything on the cards?


Saturday, January 22, 2011

God Speed Kountori-----launch successful on Saturday.

                                                      Flight mode on

                                                      All systems are ready.

                                                      Many engine start.

                                                      We have lift off of the H-11B launch vehicle No 2 with Kounotori2 on board at 2.37.57 p.m. (Japan Standard Time) at the Tanegashima Space Centre.

                                                      After lift off the launch was shifted to the range control centre.

                                                      The HTV is flying smoothly.

                                                      This is the end of the launch report of the HTV flight.

                                                      About 15 minutes after take off Kounotori successfull separated from the rocket.amidst thunderous applause by the flight controllers at the missions operations control room. After this much awaited separation, it automatically activitated its sub systems, stabilised its attitude and performed self checks. Thereafter, it established communications with Nasa's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and immediately initiated communications with the HTV mission control centre at the Tsukuba Space Centre.

                        Date: January 22,2011: The lift off time in India was around 11 a.m. The launch commentary was both in English and Japanese. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was unable to watch the live webcast because it had to attend some important household chores. But, at the earliest oppurtunity it accessed JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) later in the evening and witnessed the grand lift off and added it the favourites.

                       Kounotori is Japan;s unmanned cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), having a total mass was 16,000 kg,  It is expected to reach the station carrying 5,300 kgs of cargo, including science experiments, around 1 a.m. (IST) on January 28,2011. It is tentatively slated to depart from the space station after about a month, burn up while re entering and fall into the South Pacific Ocean. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has assured that there will be no danger to human lives since this is the zone in which Russia's Mir Station was also dumped.

                       During its stay at the station there will be transfer of cargo from the spacecraft to the station and unwanted items will be shifted to Kounotori. As BMM stated earlier, another historical event will take place in February 2011 because ``Johannes Kepler,'' the unmanned automated transfer vehicle of the European Space Agency will also dock at the space station.           

                      The launch of Kounotori on Saturday marks an important day in the history of global space exploration because this will be the first Asian effort to send a spacecraft to the space station. It also assumes significance in the context of the space shuttle being phased out with the last flight scheduled for June 2011.

                      The science payloads which Kounotori will deliver to the ISS will include the effect of human hair to long term spaceflight, what are known as ``Plant Seeds For Asian Communities'' and a few Nasa experiments. The plant project is called the ``Space Seeds For Asian Future.'' According to Jaxa, the seeds flown abroad the ISS will be returned to the ground in the Nasa space shuttle flight which will follow Discovery. The space-flown seeds will be utilised in education programmes especially at Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam./

                      Good Luck Kounotori.                       



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From the moon to the sun

           Calangute (Goa):  From the moon to the sun.

          For ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' it was indeed quite a change having made the moon literally its second `home'' thanks to the Chandrayaan-1 mission!.

          BMM's journey to the sun began on the morning of January 18.2011, in a conference room of the posh Neelam's Grand hotel in Calangute. Incidentally, the hotel staff need to be complemented for helping with such wonderful arrangements. Thank you.

        The visa to the sun was handed over to BMM at a well attended International Space Climate 4 conference. As BMM entered the beautiful and picturesque seaside resort of Calangute, it recalled that it last visited this place with wife, Usha, and daughter, Rimanika, to celebrate New Year's eve in December 1999 and usher in the new decade.

         Now 11 years later BMM was back to Calangute, this time to celebrate and delibrate about the power of the sun! Next time perhaps it could be the moon and then Mars and other planets!

         The five-day meet, held in an informal atmosphere, focussed on the critical issue of climate change because of the rise in temperature. As the main driving force behind this space conference, the highly amiable Dibyendu Nandi, told BMM in an earlier 1-2-1: ``The question is why should the temperature rise? How do changes in space affect the climate on earth? Space science plays an important role in studying changes in the sun. Changes in the sun will undoubtedly impact on our day-to-day lives and on society,'' he said, while pointing that it was in this context that such a conference assumed significance.

         For five days high profile space scientists gave ppts with graphs and figures mainly relating to solar activity which honestly were a bit incomprehensible to BMM. Hats off to Madhulika Guhathakurta of the science mission directorate at Nasa HQ in Washington whose presentation was simple and clear.

       The Indian participants included the director of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Siraj Hasan, who told BMM about the world's largest solar telescope coming up in the JK region, and Bhatnagar prize winner, Gufran Baig, of the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. Baig spoke to BMM about how the cooling of the upper atmospher can degrade the performance of satellites.

        There were reps from Nasa and other international space and astronomical organisations. BMM found it a rewarding experience interacting with them.

        But, let us not forget that a conference is a conference. What does this mean?  BMM noticed that though most of the participants were serious and actively participated in the discussions, a few tended to get bored!!!! As the sessions were drawing to a close, the number of empty chairs increased! A foreign delegate on the second day sitting next to BMM was replying to a message about his medical bill which he received on his laptop!

       `Since the PPTs were not easy to comprehend. BMM interacted with some of the scientists on an 1-2-1 basis and did reports for The Times of India. The challenging task was to communicate to the common man in layman's terms and attempt to trigger an excitement and understanding about the importance of solar activity and climate change. BMM's emphasis was on highlighting the achievements and developments in India.

        My good friend Dibyandu explained that the advantage of selecting Goa as the venue was because it was the only place in India which effectively combined work and fun. ``Hard working scientists like to have fun too,'' he said.

        The joke is that if a rocket is launched from Goa what will be its propellant? Conventional rocket fuel or beer.

        Do not be surprised it it is beer!

        It will be a real lift off!   





Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weather and space.

       Twenty hours left for an international space weather meet which is starting at Calangute in Goa, and here comes the news that two months ago in November 2010 a major European scientific conference, ESA (European Space Agency) had been organised at Bruges in Belgium.
      At this important meet experts presented plans for the initial versions of space weather hazard warning services, soon to be offered as part of the Agency's Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme.

     According to SpaceRef.Com an interesting space website, experts from ESA's Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme (SSA-PP) presented the latest overview of soon-to-be-deployed space weather warning services.

    The event is one of the world's top venues for scientists, engineers and researchers studying space weather and its impacts on critical technologies and systems.

   One major focus of the conference was ESA's SSA programme, and its preparations to launch initial warning services against hazards such as solar storms and magnetic storms. Such natural phenomenon present serious hazards to all satellites in Earth orbit, astronauts on board the ISS and to some infrastructure on the ground, such as communication systems and power distribution networks at northern latitudes.

  Latest information on ESA's SSA system

  Space weather experts from ESA presented the latest information on current studies to define the first space weather 'precursor services' that will be offered by the SSA system to customers such as satellite operators and developers. The first services are due to be deployed during 2011 and will be followed by more during the course of the SSA Preparatory Programme.

  "We were very happy to include as part of this year's event, a joint session covering the main SSA space weather activities together with presentations on a broad range of new space weather-focussed R&D studies supported by the European Comission. This was also the first public presentation of these studies, which will be highly complementary to our ongoing SSA work," said ESA's Alexi Glover, a space weather expert and one of the conference organizers.

  Solar storms generate large amounts of radiation and particles that can arrive at Earth and harm satellites within less than 24 hours. Satellites orbiting between the Sun and Earth themselves provide some of the best 'early-warning' vantage points.

  Another SSA study presented at ESWW7 covers identifying the instrumentation that will be needed to perform space-based space weather observations and the optimal locations from which to make these observations. In order to achieve reliable space weather warning services, constant monitoring of the space environment from a range of vantage points on ground and in space will be needed, together with timely dissemination of reliable data to customers.

  SSA: Reuse of exisiting European capabilities

  The SSA programme is also assessing existing European space weather facilities and capabilities that could be incorporated into the future full SSA system. Typical examples of existing national assets include space weather observatories, centres of analytical excellence, warning and forecasting networks, radiation and dosimetry expertise and space weather computational models, tools and data processing facilities.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Christmases for Three Russians -----at the International Space Station

       How many times do you celebrate Christmas?  Just one. Right?

       But no. You may be wrong. The reason?  Believe it or not for three Russians at the International Space Station (ISS), Christmas came twice in a span of just two weeks.

       After joining in the celebrations on December 25,2010, about 400 kms above the earth, the three Russians---Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Dmitry Kondratyev---celebrated their Christmas on January 7,2011 to mark the Russian Orthodox Christmas.

      The Russian Orthodix Church observes Christmas, according to the Julian calendar on January 7,2011.

      The three cosmonauts were off duty on January 7. According to, a well known space website, astronauts heading for the space station choose their holidays which they will celebrate prior to launch.

      On December 25,2010, all the six crew members---three Russians, two Americans and an Italian--celebrated Christmas in space and then ushered in the New Year  while zooming at a velocity of nearly 28,000 kms per hour!

      Father Frost, a Russian Santa Claus celebrated both Christmas and the New Year neither on December 25 nor on January 7.  He combined both the occasions by visiting the Russian mission control centre near Moscow on December 28, 2010.

      To the ISS crew from ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' wish you all great days ahead.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can u believe---there will be two Kepler missions from the middle of Feb!

        Yes, you can say it will be a space history of sorts.

        From the middle of February there will be two Kepler space missions atleast for a brief period. There is the planet-hunting mission which was launched on March 7,2009. The second Kepler mission is the automated unmanned transfer vehicle (atv) of the European Space Agency slated for launch tentatively in the middle of February which will carry cargo to the International Space Station.

       Both the missions have been named after the eminent German astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler.``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' has already written about the European Space Agency project. It will therefore focus about the planet-hunting mission.

       It measures 1.4 times the size of earth and is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system. It is the first rocky planet orbiting a star than our sun. It is called Kepler 10-b and is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

      The discovery of this planet,s announced recently, was based on eight months of data collected by Nasa's Kepler spacecraft between May 2009 to January 2010. According to Nasa, to date it has discovered more than 700 planets.

      Significantly, all of the extra solar planets detected so far by other projects are giant planets, mostly the Jupiter and bigger. Kepler is hunting planets 30 to 600 times less massive than Jupiter.

       Kepler is the first Nasa mission capable of spotting earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone. How does it work? It makes the discovery by what is known as ``transit method'' of planet finding. For example, when a planet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks a small fraction of light from the star. This means a planet is transiting a star. If this happens at regular intervals, it signifies a planet has been found. The changing brightness will indicate the new planet's size.

       Douglas Hudgins, Kepler programme scientist at Nasa HQ in Washington has been quoted as saying: ``The discovery of Kepler 10-b, a bonafide rocky world, is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own. Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the promise of many more to come.''

      Happy hunting!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Where did the water on the moon come from---something that continuos to baffle all of us!

        The story of Water On the Moon continuos to intrigue and baffle the space community. Where did the water on the moon come from? What is its source? This topic is still being debated and as yet no firm conclusion has been arrived at.

        On September 23 2009, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' attend a presentation by none other than Mylswamy Annadurai, project director, Chandrayaan, at the SIES College, where he declared that one of the major findings of the Indian moon missionoon was that the source of water on the moon was internal, and not necessarily though an external factor like comets.

      According to Nasa the moon was to have been as dry as it was void of life and atmosphere.
This assumption, though, has been revisited after findings by NASA last year of significant traces of frozen water in a permanently shadowed crater.

      Astrophysicists led by James Greenwood of Wesleyan University in Connecticut analysed rock samples collected during the Apollo expeditions, looking in particular at variations in hydrogen isotopes in a water-loving mineral called apatite.

     Considering the importance of their research, BMM has reproduced the report as it was published in, a well know space website. According to this report this signature, they say, points to three potential sources: from the sub-surface lunar mantle, from protons brought by the "solar wind" of particles blasted from the Sun -- and from comets.

    The isotope measurements in the apatite were similar to those previously found in three well-known comets: Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake and Halley.

   Comets have been described as frozen reservoirs of water orbiting the Sun, for they contain vast quantities of ice in their heads.

   Under a "giant impact" theory dating back to the 1970s, the Moon was formed from part of Earth, after our planet collided with a space rock or planet some 4.5 billion years ago.
"Significant delivery" of cometary water occurred after the Moon-forming event, suggests Greenwood's team.

   Comets also provided Earth with some of its lavish endowment of water as well as key chemicals to kickstart life, according to some hypotheses.

   The paper is published online by the journal Nature Geoscience.

    The report endorses the statement of Annadurai that one of the possible sources of water on the moon

    Incidentally, BMM has published this blog when Mumbai is facing a three-day water cut. Any other source of water can find in the financial capital of India?!!!!!!!    

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A recent theory about the moon's formation.

Artist concept of the lunar core  An artist's rendering of the lunar core as identified in new findings by a NASA-led research team. (NASA/MSFC/Renee Weber)

Passive Seismic Experiment deployed on the moon by Apollo 14 A close-up view of the Passive Seismic Experiment, a component of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) which was deployed on the Moon by the Apollo 14 astronauts during their first extravehicular activity (EVA-1). (NASA/JSC)

Renee Weber Renee Weber. (NASA/MSFC)
State-of-the-art seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our moon has a core similar to Earth's.

    A recent Nasa report states that uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the moon's formation. The new data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo -- a natural process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field.

   A Nasa team's findings suggest the moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles. Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles. The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulfur, echoing new seismology research on earth that suggests the presence of light elements -- such as sulfur and oxygen -- in a layer around our own core.

   According to Nasa the researchers used extensive data gathered during the Apollo-era moon missions. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers deployed between 1969 and 1972, which recorded continuous lunar seismic activity until late-1977.

  "We applied tried and true methodologies from terrestrial seismology to this legacy data set to present the first-ever direct detection of the moon's core," said Renee Weber, lead researcher and space scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

  In addition to Weber, the team consisted of scientists from Marshall; Arizona State University; the University of California at Santa Cruz; and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France. Their findings are published in the online edition of the journal Science.

  The team also analyzed Apollo lunar seismograms using array processing, techniques that identify and distinguish signal sources of moonquakes and other seismic activity. The researchers identified how and where seismic waves passed through or were reflected by elements of the moon's interior, signifying the composition and state of layer interfaces at varying depths.

  Although sophisticated satellite imaging missions to the moon made significant contributions to the study of its history and topography, the deep interior of earth's sole natural satellite remained a subject of speculation and conjecture since the Apollo era. Researchers previously had inferred the existence of a core, based on indirect estimates of the moon's interior properties, but many disagreed about its radius, state and composition.

   Nasa says that a primary limitation to past lunar seismic studies was the wash of "noise" caused by overlapping signals bouncing repeatedly off structures in the moon's fractionated crust. To mitigate this challenge, Weber and the team employed an approach called seismogram stacking, or the digital partitioning of signals. Stacking improved the signal-to-noise ratio and enabled the researchers to more clearly track the path and behavior of each unique signal as it passed through the lunar interior.

  "We hope to continue working with the Apollo seismic data to further refine our estimates of core properties and characterize lunar signals as clearly as possible to aid in the interpretation of data returned from future missions," Weber said.

  Future NASA missions will help gather more detailed data. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is a NASA Discovery-class mission set to launch this year. The mission consists of twin spacecraft that will enter tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure the gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about earth's moon and provide scientists a better understanding of the satellite from crust to core, revealing subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.

  NASA and other space agencies have been studying concepts to establish an International Lunar Network -- a robotic set of geophysical monitoring stations on the moon -- as part of efforts to coordinate international missions during the coming decade.


A lunar surprise---a precious new year gift

         It was undoubtedly a new year gift, and ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' did not know it had this precious collection all these years!

        On the morning of January 9,2011, when BMM's wife, Usha and daughter, Rimanika, were in the process of discarding old papers, they stumbled upon something which BMM grabbed instantly. They were newspapers which were 42-years-old.

         But, why should BMM all of a sudden decide to keep these collection of old newspapers? The reason is that they contained reports about the Apollo 8 flight-----the first manned mission to the lunar orbit. There are nine Indian newspapers starting from December 22,1968.

         The papers are The Bharat Jyoti--what was once the Sunday edition of the Free Press Journal--The Indian Express, The Economic Times and of course The Times of India. In the last 42 years, the papers have crumpled and BMM had to open the paper with utmost lest they should tare.

          Though the papers relating to the launch are not there, the reports are mainly about the the mission entering the lunar orbit which was historical and the splashdown. They contain a lot of details, photographs and sketches  and reactions from various people, including one from Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India's space programme.

          How did these papers remain in an old rusted trunk at BMM's house all these years? Who had collected and preserved them without BMM remaining blissfully unaware about it for the last 42 years? Any guess? BMM's mom of course and BMM is extremely grateful to her and thanks her.

          BMM's mom knew that her son was born not with a silver spoon in its mouth, but with rocket fuel!!! Space was in its blood right from the moment it was born. Its mom had also taken the trouble of preserving the The New York Times containing reports about the first landing on the moon. But, again it has to be handled very carefully. Infact its dad has done a sketch of BMM cycling on the moon for his birthday which is displayed in the huge case in its room right behind the Saturn V rocket model.

          Yes, the space treasure unearthed on January 9,2011 was truly a great, precious and memorable new year gift for BMM  BMM's house is going to be totally revamped in the next two months. It hopes that it will stumble upon similar space treasures!

          If it does, then once again a big thanks to mom. Thanks also to Usha for deciding to revamp the house.

          BMM will soon start reading these newspapers.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Who is aiming for the stars? Yes, it is students of Chennai again.

              By chance if a student from Chennai becomes the first Indian to land on the moon do not be really surprised. This can happen. Yes, they are aiming for the stars.

            After Anusat (Anna University Satellite), there is another group of students in Chennai which is  designing and developing a satellite which is expected to be launched in April 2011 by Isro's highly-proven Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The satellite designated as SRMSAT is the product of about 45 engineering students of the prestigious SRM University, about 40 kms from Chennai.

           The story of SRMSAT began in August 2008 when the vision of launching a student satellite was mentioned at a seminar taken by D.Raghavamurthy of Isro. The idea of launching a satellite was born and the students decided to take it up as a challenge. Raghavamurthy has been regularly interacting with students across the country inspiring them to design and develop small satellites.

           According to a space website, ``Space Mart,'' the primary role of the 10 kg nano satellite is to monitor greenhouse gases.

         The tiny satellite is taking shape at the labs of SRM University with students representing as many as 12 engineering disciplines working closely with Isro to make their starry dreams turn into a realily, There is no doubt that Isro will provide the youngsters full support and encouragement to fulfill their dreams as it has always done.

          M.Loganathan, former Isro scientist, who is leading the satellite team, has been quoted as saying in the website that the students are so passionate about this project that after finishing their classes at 4 p.m.,they head directly towards the labs and work on the satellite till about midnight.

           Sarvesh Narayan, a mechanical engineering student said: ``It was difficult to communicate technically as we all come from different disciplines of engineering. But, we did overcome it as each of us had to understand the concept of the other disciplines. Right now the mantra for these space age students is only SRMSAT. They dream and talk only about this project 24X7 over lunch, dinner and during the weekends.

          The mission profile as stated in the sat's website envisages that it will operate at an altitude ranging between 600 and 800 kms. The cost of the project is about Rs two crores.

           We are eagerly looking forward to the launch of SRMSAT and we wish it Good Luck and God Speed. So, let us not be surprised if the Indian on the moon happens to be from Chennai!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Morning with astronomer Shrinivas Kulkarni

      It is an absolute coincidence. On the morning of January 6,2011 ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' met an extremely pleasant star struck person a few hours before the prestigious Infosys Prize function. What is unique about him ?  He celebrated his first birthday in a different way. Any Guess?  He was born on October 4, 1956, at Kurudwadi in Maharashtra, and his first birthday was marked with the world entering the space age thru the launch of Sputnik by the former Soviet Union!

     He is Shrinivas Kulkarni, director, Caltech Optical Observatories at the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Over a cup of coffee at the fortress-like Taj hotel, this eminent astronomer and BMM exchanged views about various developments in the field of space science and technology, astronomy and other related areas. Undoubtedly, for BMM it was the most rewarding experience. He was in Mumbai on January 6 in connection with the Infosys Prize ceremony. He chaired the jury relating to the field of physical sciences.

     He grew up at Hubli in Karnataka and is a distinguished alumnus of IIT Delhi.

     While talking about India, the topic turned to a more than a billion dollar project which will come up at Mount Kea in Hawaii. Described as the most powerful telescope in the world, once commissioned in 2019, the massive Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)  will study objects in our own solar system, stars, the entire Milky Way and the neighbouring galaxies at the very edge of the universe. The project forms a part of the Caltech Optical Observatories.

     On June 24,2010, Prithviraj Chavan, then minister of state for science and technology, announced in California that India will join the international telescope project as an observer. Having an observer status is the first step in becoming a full partner. His announcement was greeted enthusiastically by American space scientists and astronomers, including the legendary Ed Stone, the chief scientist for the Voyager project.

     Kulkarni told BMM that at the moment final negotiations are in progress between the government of India and those connected with the project regarding this country joining the programme. ``India is seeking a 10 per cent share and it would have to spend 100 million dollars over a 10-year-period,'' he said, while emphasising that he was extremely optimistic that plans will be firmed up by the middle of the year. ``There is tremendous scientific capability in India,'' he added.

     If the project materialises then once again India will become an exclusive member of an global astronomical club along with China, Japan, Canada and of course the Caltech. It is already a member of the international lunar club with the US, Russia, China, Japan, and the European Space Agency thanks to the success of the Chandrayaan-1 mission. And also the nuclear club with the success of Pokhran-1 and Pokhran-2.

     Three Indian institutes, the Pune-based Inter University Centre For Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, Nainital and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore, are involved with the TMT project. The department of science and technology has formed a group of astronomers who are working on the plan.

     Caltech is the nodal institute. Apart from China and Japan, its major partners are the University of California and the Association of Canadian Universities For Research on Astronomy.

     Apart from the TMT, Kulkarni said that he was informally exploring the idea of small satellites which are less than 100 kg which can do quick science in an inexpensive way unlike missions which are large. ``Israel has shown a lot of interest in this project,'' he said.

     It was a great and memorable morning for BMM.

     Thank You Shrinivas. And thank you Infosys for giving me an opportunity to meet him.




Tuesday, January 4, 2011

From Kounotori to Kepler.

        This will be something historical for the International Space Station (ISS). Hopefully, less than a month after the Japanese unmanned spacecraft, Kounotori.docks with the space station, another one of the European Space Agency (ESA) will be at the station. Called Johannes Kepler, the automated transfer vehicle (ATV) is named after the German astronomer and mathematician.

         Kounotori is tentatively is slated for launch in about a fortnight ie on January 20 with its launch window remaining open till February 28. The date fixed for Johannes Kepler is February 15. It is the second ATV launch after Jules Verne which was launched on March 9,2008 and reentered the atmosphere on September 29,2008. As usual for Johannes Kepler, the rocket will be the Ariane 5 and the lift off will be from the European spaceport of Kourou.

        Weighing 20,000 kgs--same as Jules Verne--Johannes Kepler will fly seven tonnes of experiments, fuel, water, food and other supples from the earth to the ISS. According to the ESA, when it arrives at the station, it will become a 22-cubic metre extension of the ISS, giving extra space for six astronauts and cosmonauts who form the permanent ISS crew.

        ESA states whilst it is attached, apart from transferring cargo to the ISS, Johannes Kepler will get loaded up with solid and liquid wastes from the station. After about six months, it will undock, will execute two carefully executed manouvres which will place it in a trajectory that will result in it burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere over an uninhabitated area of the Pacific Ocean. 

       Wth two unmanned spacecraft at the ISS, it is ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' guess that this historic event could perhaps turn into a moment to uncork the champagne bottle at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which has always felt that manned missions to space were really of no value and the space shuttle was a flop. It is possible, that if both Kounotori and Johannes Kepler succeed, it will perhaps encourage JPL to campaign more strongly for unmanned interplanetary robotic missions and seek more funds for these projects.

       Interesting to watch what happens.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Russia beats US and China

   The cold war rivalry in space might have ended. But competition still exists between the US and Russia.

     What better proof of this than a recent statement put out by Roscosmos that Russia has surpassed not only the US, but also China in the number of launches last year.

      It provides an interesting account of how different space faring nations performed in the critical area of rocket launches in 2010. India with just three launches has fared better than South Korea, Japan and Israel.Of the three launches, two---both of the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)---flopped. Only the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on July 12,2010 succeeded.

      According to this report, in 2010, Russia has made almost a half of all launches in the world this year - 31 launches of 74.

    Next there come the USA and China with 15 launches each. ESA has made 6 launches, India- 3, South Korea- 1, Japan – 2, Israel -1. 4 launches in the world were unsuccessful. Out of 31 Russia’s launches, 15 have been made by the rockets produced by Khrunichev Space Center, including 12 of heavy-lift Proton. That is 2 times more than for Proton’s rival Ariane-5.

    Proton has also bet another record, with making 29 launches within 29 months.

    Significantly, this report has come at a time when director of Isro's National Remote Sensing Agency, V.Jayaraman, declared recently that India is planning to launch atleast 30 earth observation satellites in the next one decade.

     He said that the launch manifest includes Resourcesat, Cartosat, ocean and atmospheric satellites. Resourcesat-2 will be launched either towards the end of January or the beginning of February. All these satellites fortunately will be launched by the PSLV. This means that there will be less anxiety and tension during launch, unlike what happens when the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is set to take off.

     India's performance in the rocket launch area will perhaps improve if the GSLV becomes dependable and puts up a better show.

     For this naturally we have to see what the newly formed committees--post GSLV failure--do in the coming days.    


Sunday, January 2, 2011

T-18 days. Go for Kounotori launch.

        T-18 days. Excitement is building up at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Hectic activity is in progress.

        Why all this activity? T-18 days and counting. On January 20, 2011, Kounotori, a six tonne spacecraft of Jaxa will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be carried by the massive H-11B rocket, stated to be the largest in Japan.  Kounotori incidentally means white stork. The launch window will remain open till February 28,2011.

        The mission, perhaps one of the most important for this year assumes significance in view of the phasing out of Nasa's space shuttle. Significantly, next month, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch its second automated transfer vehicle known as Johannes Kepler, to the ISS. The first one was called Jules Verne. In the absence of the Japanese and ESA spacecrafts to the ISS, countries would have to depend solely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to fly their items to the ISS in the days ahead.

        According to Yashihiko Torano, project manager, HTV, the mission profile envisages that after the spacecraft detaches itself from the rocket, the former will start determining its position using the global positioning system and move steadily towards the ISS in a period of three days. All this while it will remain in contact with the ground control centre at the Tsukaba Space Centre via Nasa's data relay satellite.

        Nearing the space station, it will approach the ISS from 500 metres below using a laser sensor. The ISS flies at a maximum speed of 7.7 kms per second at an altitude of around 400 kms, Torano states that the docking system with the ISS will be pretty unconventional because it will be the first spacecraft to be ``grabbed'' by the station's robotic arm known as the space station remote manipulator system.

        This docking method was selected because it would permit a wider opening of the cargo module so that larger cargoes could be flown to the space station and it is cost effective. Items will be transferred to the ISS and those which have to be discarded will be moved to the spacecraft.

       About a month later  Kounotori will separate from the space station and re enter the earth's atmosphere. Most of the HTV will burn up due to high temperatures during re entry.

        If the mission is successful, world space history would be made.

        We are looking forward to it. Good Luck and God Speed!     

Saturday, January 1, 2011

GSLV preliminary failure analysis report

       Six days after the unfortunate Christmas day failure of the GSLV carrying the heaviest India-made satellite Gsat-5P weighing 2301 kg, Isro on Friday confirmed an instant statement made by the space agency's chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, that the mishap was caused by the snapping of a group of 10 connectors.

        The report has raised important questions whether this snapping could have been the result of external forces like vibration or dynamic pressure. Infact BMM felt that vibration could perhaps be one of the contributing factors because a super book it is now reading about Voyager says that vibration during launch beyond the designed limits did result in some problems to the spacecraft. BMM in fact did mention this to secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas.

        Isro has now appointed a committee headed by former chairman, G.Madhavan Nair, to analyse the failure of the rocket and recommend corrective action. The appointment of Nair to head the committee is significant because he had sometime back expressed certain reservations about the overall performance of the GSLV.

         It seems Isro is really in a make over mode. What better proof of this than the fact that it has set up a programme review and strategy committee headed by former Isro chairman, K.Kasturirangan, to look into the future of the GSLV programme and assured launch of the GSat/Insat series, Insat-3D as well as Chandryaan-2; realisation and operationalisation of the indigenous cryogenic engine and strategy for meeting the demands of communication transponders in the immediate future.

        From this it is apparent that Isro is hell bent on launching Chandrayaan-2 with the somewhat unreliable GSLV. The question is whether the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, will accept this rocket in view of the fact that the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, has laid emphasis on what he calls ``performance discipline,'' following the failure of a Proton rocket on December 5,2010, carrying three Glonass communication satellites. The Russian opinion could be important because a Russian lander with scientific instruments  is a part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Will India be able to launch Chandrayaan-2 in 2013 is now the big question?

        As stated earlier, if there is some problem with the GSLV, it is possible that Chandrayaan-2 could be carried with the highly proven PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), but this will be with a reduced weight. Alternatively it could depend on a foreign launcher.

        With regards to the Indian cryogenic engine, Radhakrishnan had stated on April 15, 2010--the day the maiden flight of the GSLV failed with an Indian cryogenic engine---that within a year the rocket will lift off powered by the indigenous engine. This means that in three months ie in April 2011 it will take off. Will this engine ready for the flight by that time?

         Among the members of the second committee is R.Chidambaram, former chairman of atomic energy commission and now a member of the space commission. His appointment has raised eye brows in certain quarters because he admitted to BMM sometime back that his familiarity with the developments in the space sector is somewhat limited.

         When these reports are ready they should be fully accessible to the public, the tax payer, Atleast in this respect Isro should follow the example of Nasa by not concealing anything. There should be transparency. The reports should not be only through a diluted press release.
         We look forward to these documents in full.