Monday, May 30, 2011

A good suggestion


         It is a good suggestion and ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' is certaintly of the view that the state government and the civic body must seriously consider it.

         The suggestion has been made by the Russian consul general in Mumbai, Alexey A.Novikov.. What was the suggestion?

         Novikov in a letter dated May 24, 2011 to state chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, has stated that the new flyover between Dadar and Byculla to be opened around June 30 should be named after Yuri Gagarin. In his letter he says: ``It (flyover) is designed to be primarily used by mill workers. May we suggest naming it after the first man in space. Mr Yuri Gagarin who exemplified the views and ideals by the working class of the Soviet Union.''

        The letter says: ``We believe that naming the fly-over after Yuri Gagarin who ushered in a new space era will be symbolic during the golden jubilee of the his first space flight that the world celebrated on April 12,2011. Further, it was Mumbai that Yuri Gagarin chose to visit after his space flight which makes the city the right place to commemorate him...''

       Gagarin came to Mumbai in October 1961 and addressed a massive public meeting at Shivaji Park.

       The diplomat has pointed out in his letter that as a reflection of Russia's reverence towards the Indian people, Russian regional and local authorities name streets in honour of prominent Indian statesmen and erect monuments to immortalise them. Various Russian cities have venues commemorating Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and other ``great pearls'' of India.

       ``Similarly we believe that there is quite a large number of outstanding men in Russia who, we feel, deserve to be commemorated in India. ``This in our opinion could underline the friendship between our countries and strengthen ties between our peoples as they will be attracted by each other's history and accomplishment,'' it says.

        BMM has learnt through other sources that a monument was erected at a place called Ribander, seaside town in Ratnagiri district in honour of the first Russian who set foot on India, in 1479,Afanasiy Nikitin.  Novikov was reported to have spoken to the municipal commissioner, Subodh Kumar, on May 25 about naming the new fly over after Gagarin and he was stated to have found his response ``relatively positive.''

        BMM feels that it is an excellent idea to name something after Gagarin or atleast erect a monment in Mumbai on his behalf.

        We hope the suggestion does not gather dust. The idea should be implemented before the end of 2011.

        BMM's room at Warden Road is being renovated and when it is completed believe me it is going to be named Klushino---after the village where Gagarin was born.

        Yes, this is true.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

No Moonrise

         Not really the best of times for India's lunar programme

         After the spectacular success of Chandrayaan-1, indications are that the second moon mission, the Rs 425-crore Chandrayaan-2, will be considerably delayed. The original plan envisaged it taking off in 2012, it got postponed to 2013 and then 2014. Now the current indications are that there is every possibility that it will be further delayed because of the uncertainty of the three-stage Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

        In this somewhat grim scenario comes the news that Nasa has rejected the MoonRise project, a joint flight with Isro. Ironically, this unmanned scientific joint mission to the moon was announced on the 50th anniversary of John F.Kennedy's speech regarding sending Americans to the moon!

      The Space Commission had approved Isro's participation in the MoonRise mission on February 12,2012, Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, announced it in New Delhi the same afternoon. MoonRise would have focussed on the giant South Pole Aitken basin on the far side of the moon. The launch was tentatively slated for October 2016.

       Nasa rejected the MoonRise mission--a sample return one---and another one to Venus in favour of a flight to an asteroid called ``Origins-Spectral Interpretation--Resource Identification-Security Regolith Explorer'' designated as Osiris-REx.

       Though no specific reasons have been given for Nasa's rejection of the MoonRise project, speculation is rife that it did not win because of a feeling among a section of scientists that there is really nothing new to learn about the moon with so many international missions aimed at it.
       Nasa had asked Isro to build the orbiter in the same pattern as Chandrayaan-1, which would have provided the communication between the rover on the lunar surface and the earth. The project would have been a team work between Isro and Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The project came under the purview of the New Frontier Programme,

       The rejection has to be seen against the background of PM Manmohan Singh and President Obama issuing a joint statement in New Delhi in November 2010 which emphasised colloboration in the space section.

       How seriously can one take these joint statements!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

50 years ago---Kennedy announces decision to go to the moon,


                                            ``I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving
                                               the goal before the decade is out of landing a man on the
                                               moon and returning him safely to earth..''

                                               John F.Kennedy at a special joint session of the Congress on
                                               May 25 ,1961.

                   Though US space and defence experts, policy planners and politicians had been exploring the possibility of a human lunar landing, it was this historic speech by President John F.Kennedy which finally  resulted in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally setting foot on the moon on July 20,1969.

                   The famous speech which triggered a lot of applause in the Congress, was a part of what one may call a space triad in a span of one-and-a-half months which began with Yuri Gagarin's flight on April 12,1961, followed by the less spectacular 15-minute sub orbital mission by US astronaut, Alan Shepherd on May 5 1961 and then finally Kennedy's speech about sending a man to the moon on May 25,1961.

                   Having suffered a number of space defeats in the hands of the Russians, Kennedy was hell bent on embarking on space mission which will make the US a world space leader. He was convinced that the only mission which can do this was the one which will take the first humans to the moon. Clearly, by Kennedy's own admission it was more of a political exercise, rather than a scientific, engineering or technological feat.

                   The story goes that on that day, at a number of US aerospace establishments the employees listened to the speech during their lunch break. When they heard the dramatic announcement they gathered in groups to speculate and discuss what would be the next step in flying an American to the moon. It was a moment of excitement, apprehension, serious introspection and thrill. Their country was about to embark on a great adventure started by  Kennedy and they were going to be a part of it. The question was will they succeed? The programme was called Apollo which has since become a household word.

                   For India the speech has relevance, because this country's  maiden mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1, took a number of pictures of the Apollo landing sites on the lunar surface.

                   ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' is reading a book called ``JFK And The Race To The Moon,'' by John Logsdon. (More about this book in a later blog). It makes a very heavy reading and is a scholarly work. It has to be read slowly because it is like a thesis. On reading the book, atleast BMM gets the impression that the real father of the American manned lunar mission were none of the Americans, but a Russian. Any guess who it can be?.

                    You will be surprised to hear who it is in BMM's judgement. It is Yuri Gagarin! Any reason why? The answer is simple. If Gagarin had not embarked on his flight on April 12,1961, the possibilities are that the Americans would have taken their own time to do a human lunar mission. According to the book, the original plan envisaged sending an American to space in March 1961 before Gagarin.

                   But, then there was some opposition to it particularly from the docs who were unsure as to how humans would react in space. Gagarin's flight proved that the docs were once again wrong in their analysis and their fears had only resulted in the US once again losing to the Russian in the space arena.The message: it is sometimes necessary take the advice given by docs with a pinch of salt!!!!!!

                   Though the hall in which Kennedy spoke reveberated to the applause of the audience every now and then, Kennedy was reported to have remarked while coming out of he Capitol in Washington DC that he found the response less enthusiastic.

                   The speech followed Kennedy making frantic attempts to embark on a joint US-Soviet manned mission to the moon. He spoke to Khruschev directly, emphasised this during an address at the UN General Assembly, tried through various diplomatic channels and other routes.

                    Though the Apollo-Soyuz project was a success, a joint manned landing on the moon did not materialise.



Saturday, May 21, 2011

GSAT-8 launched Air travellers can heave a sigh of relief!

          For some reason ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  awoke early on Saturday and looked at the watch. It was 1.45 a.m.

          It was just 23 minutes left for the launch of Ariane 5 carrying India's 3100 kg communication satellite, GSat-8.

          BMM immediately, without switching on the room lights, activated the TV and accessed doordarshan to watch the live coverage of the launch.  Good it worked. But, there was disappointment too. Doordarshan was telecasting a boring programme about khadi and then about national unity!  Nothing could be more dull than these two programmes at that hour!

           Then just around 2 a.m. fortunately khadi and national unity went off the screen, and the live telecast from the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guyana finally began, this time minus the two commentators. The programme was prepared by Arianespace and it showed the Jupiter control room where various officials both from Isro and SingTel  were monitoring the consoles. BMM could see Isro Satellite Centre, T.K.Alex and chairman, K.Radhakrishnan.

            The countdown incidentally was in French and at T-5 minutes the status was green for lift off and it was `go.'  In the rocket GSat-8 was positioned below the Asian communication satellite, ST-2 weighing 5090 kg.

            At sharp, 2.08 a.m. the rocket's engines ignited and Ariane-5 thundered off the launch pad carrying ST-2 and GSat-8. The launch celebrated the 30th anniv of Isro's colloboration with Arianespace since 1981. It was the 14th Indian satellite to be launched by Arianespace.

            What is the significance of the GSat-8 mission? Indeed air travellers in India can heave a sigh of relief because GSat-8 assures them of safer air travel in the days ahead.  The reason?  It is carrying two important payloads--Gagan (GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation) which will hopefully strengthen air safety levels in Indian airspace, and 24 ku band transponders for direct-to-home telecasts and news gathering.  Both of them are expected to becme fully operational in about six weeks after all the tests are completed.

             More about Gagan. It flew in GSat-4 on April 15,2010, which was carried by the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, for the first time powered by an Indian cryogenic engine. But, the mission was a failure. Instead of heading for the sky, Gagan headed towards the sea!

          But, on Saturday, GSat-8 carrying Gagan and the 24 ku band transponders headed towards the sky.! After all in Sanskrit Gagan means sky.

          The goal of the Rs 774-crore Gagan having a 12-year mission life is to provide navigation system for all phases of flight over the Indian airspace. Based on the experience of Gagan, the government will create an autonomous regional air navigation system called the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System.

           To implement the Gagan system, codes for certain frequences were obtained from the United States Air Force and the US department of defence. It uses eight reference stations located at New Delhi, Guwahati, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Thiruvanathanapuram, Bangalore, Jammu and Port Blair with a master control centre at Bangalore.

           According to those connected with the Gagan project, its flight management system is expected to save operators' time and money by managing climb, descent and engine performance profiles. It will also improve airport and airspace access in all weather conditions.

           The Gagan project will bring together two sectors--space and civil aviation.

           If this colloboration indeed works, be sure aviation in India can look forward to brighter days.

           This of course will be due to the space sector.


Friday, May 20, 2011

The sound of sounding rockets are back

  They are back again and sure this time with a lot of openness and transparency.

  What are they?

  They are sounding rockets which will lift off from Isro's  Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) which is a part of the under Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thiruvanathanapuram.

  Every Wednesday these rockets were launched from Thumba and their primary role being to study the upper atmosphere. But the flights were discontinued at Thumba and the action then moved to the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota.

   But, from May 18, 2011, these flights have restarted at Thumba, and what is noteworthy is that the public, especially students have been invited to witness these launches. Good---its work culture is finally changing and it is certainly changing for the better. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' hopes that it will remain this way.

    The launch will take place every third Wednesday of each month between 5 and 6 p.m.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Endeavour

       At 6.20 p.m. (IST) on May 16,2011, the command from the launch control centre at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre was ``We are ready for launch.''

       Closer to the launch time there was a 9-minute hold during which 1000 paremeters of the space shuttle were checked. At T-7 minutes the scene shifted to the space shuttle missions operations control centre at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. Kyle Herring who was giving the commentary said that the ascent team  has been on the consoles since 3 a.m. (CDT--Houston time). The launch time was 8.56 a.m. (EDT corresponding to about 6.30 p.m. (IST).

       Earlier, it was stated that the launch team and the crew had declared a `go,' and the clouds posed on issues. The weather forecast was a `go' and there was no issue with the space shuttle's heaters which had earlier created problems resulting in the mission being resked.

       The final command for igniting the shuttle'e engines came at T-6.6 seconds prior to lift off.

       Then around 6.30 p.m. (IST), the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off majestically on its final mission with a seven-member crew. The primary role of this flight is to deliver a major physics experiment to the International Space Station called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

        ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' watched the Endeavour launch coverage on Nasa TV right from 2 p.m. (IST) on May 16 2011 and every moment of it was exciting and thrilling, apart from it being informative. Wondered why Isro cannot do the same thing with its missions and reach out to the public more effectively?  For instance why cannot Isro have its own TV channel?

         A few minutes before lift off BMM activated CNN too. It was surprised to find that for unknown reasons there was time difference between the sequence of events connected with the mission being shown on CNN and Nasa TV. CNN was a few minutes ahead of Nasa TV. In plain terms it means that the lift off Endeavour first came on CNN and then a few minutes later on Nasa TV.

         BMM's house at Breach Candy in Mumbai is currently undergoing a major renovation. Even the electrician and carpenter who were watching the lift off were somewhat puzzled by this difference in timing. Why should it happen?

        CNN carried some of the tweets of the crew members and one of them said that he was displaying a boyish enthusiasm. What is wrong with this? Nothing. It is good.

        About this mission itself ,Nasa launch director Mike Leinbach said that his team faced a number of challenges,but successfully returned to the launch mode. When he polled the status of different stations, all systems were a `go for launch.' giving the final green signal for a 6.30 p.m. (IST) take off of Endeavour.

        Endeavour will dock with the International Space Station on Wednesday and return finally on June 1,2011. According to Nasa, it has completed 116,372,930 miles, finished 4423 orbits in 25 flights carrying 166 crew members. It has docked with the space station 11 times.

         For the sake of comparision the space shuttle Columbia did 121,696,993 miles; Challenger 23,661,290 miles; Discovery 148,221,675 miles and Atlantis 120,650,907 miles.

        This particular space shuttle, Endeavour, was the result of a tragedy. It was born as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger which blew up 70 seconds after lift off on January 28,1986. Nasa was given the `go' for asking Rockwell International to construct Endeavour on July 31,1987. It was ready in July 1990 and delivered to the Kennedy Space Centre in May 1991.  Its maiden flight was exactly a year later in May 1992.

        The name Endeavour was given as a result of a competition among American school kids. BMM with the secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, has been suggesting that a similar competition should be held in India to name the rover which will land on the moon during the Chandrayaan-2 flight presumably 2014.  We suggested this to the Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai sometime back. But, there has been no response.     

         It was a great five-hour afternoon watching every moment of the drama taking place at the Kennedy Space Centre. BMM has ordered a book called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which is about the space shuttles written by those connected with it. It is expected to receive it any day.

         Next is the last space shuttle mission--Atlantis slated for launch in June 2011.

         With the flight of Atlantis the era of the space shuttles will finally draw to a close. Maybe scientists who were opposed to manned space missions all along will sigh a relief!!!!!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mumbai 2 sour into space

            Sure, it promises an exciting moment for everyone particularly for all of us in Mumbai.

             Guess what it is?

             The launch of Pratham, designed and developed by the students of Mumbai IIT. Yes, the schedules have slightly slipped for a variety of reasons. But, so what?  This is something pretty common in any space mission and examples are a plenty. Take for instance Nasa's space shuttle launches. Have they not been resked a number of times?  And folks the reasons range from weather to technical.

            The launch of space shuttle Endeavour at about 7 p.m. (IST) on May 16 2011 was originally scheduled for March 2011. But, it got postponed and hopefully it should lift off on its final mission tonight (IST).

             So, let us not have a heartbreak each time a space flight gets postponed. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' has seen how dedicated the IIT-B students are while working on Pratham. It is 24X7. And what will be the result?  Pratham will definately soar into orbit bringing glory to IIT-B, the Indian student community and, of course, to our city of Mumbai too.

             On Sunday, the Pratham team held its fourth and final ground station workshop at IIT-B. Project manager, Jhonny Santosh Jha, told BMM that the satellite programme received a very large exposure to the Indian students at the session. ``There were 60 students representing 10 universities across the country,'' he said, while pointing out that it was the largest participation of students in all these years. Also joining in the day long workshop were reps from the Institute of Physics of the Globe through video conferencing. This institute is participating in the Pratham project.

            Jha said that the Pratham project crossed a significant milestone last month when it received the `go' for negotiating the launch dates with Isro HQ and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. If all goes according to sked then it is likely that the launch will take place in the last quarter of 2011---say sometime between September and December 2011.

            He said that the table testing of the satellite has been succesfully completed and the process of assembling the flight model will be initiated this month. Two months prior to the lift off, the satellite will be handed over to Isro for further tests at Isro's satellite centre in Bangalore. These include the shake and bake test and the acoustic test. In the former the satellite will be subjected to severe vibration similar to the one it will experience during launch. In the second it will be exposed to extreme temperatures, and in the acoustic test the satellite will checked to see if it can withstand the high noise levels at take off.

           The rocket will be Isro's highly successful work horse---the four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV)  and the chances are that Pratham will piggy back on the Indo-French 450 kg Saral satellite. With a four-month mission life, Pratham weighing 10 kgs will be placed in the 817 km polar sun synchronous orbit. The role of Pratham is to measure what is known as the ``Total Electron Count of the Ionosphere.''

           Pratham's mission includes ``enabling students and faculty to gain knowledge and experience in the field of satellite and space technology. Also, its role is to involve students from other universities in IIT-B's satellite mission by building ground stations in their universities.

           If the Pratham mission succeeds---why should it not---it will have a two-fold impact. First, it will provide a boost to the image of the Indian student community at large. Second, it will encourage youngsters to participate in India's space programme.

           Good wishes and God Speed to Pratham.




Saturday, May 14, 2011

Yuri's own story

        For quite some time ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was visiting different bookshops all over Mumbai in search of Yuri Gagarin's well known autobiography, ``Road To The Stars,'' but met with no success.

        Last month thanks to BMM managed to obtain a copy and it was really worth the effort to secure this book. Significantly, BMM got the book when the world was celebrating the 50th anniv of the first manned space mission by Yuri.

        ``Road To The Stars,'' makes a fantastic reading and BMM found it difficult to keep it down. It portrays Yuri as a warm and extremely friendly person, who despite his success, did  not allow the unmatched achievement to go into his head. He remained a simple, humble and above all a down-to-earth person inspite of the accomplishment. Stories have been circulating about him which aim to destroy his image and reputation. But, the question is whether there is any truth in them. The possibility of a rival faction planting these stories cannot be really ruled out.

        The book views the success of the first manned space flight more as a triumph of communism over capitalism than a technological accomplishment. The hidden message it conveys is that the virtues of communism cannot be found in capitalism. In that sense, though this book is completely about Yuri, it has a political message too.

         A great and superb book which BMM will read and read.




A film that shows promise----Go To The Moon with Chandrayaan, but on the celluloid

          Here is a different type of film about Chandrayaan and the man behind it is my good friend, Santosh George Kulangara---incidentally slated to be India's first space tourist. He was introduced to me by another close friend, Suhas Satam Naik, at the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago.

         Santosh and his talented team have started a website about the film which is Spacebuffs can go to it and obtain full details about this unique project.

          The highly informative website contains a 11-minute trailer which only makes spacebuffs like ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' extremely impatient to witness the actual film. We hope it is not too far away, and BMM has been literally telephoning Santosh daily to find out when it will be nationally released, especially in Mumbai.

            BMM as stated earlier has been completely involved with Chandrayaan right from its inception. It has even written a book about it ``Moonshot India,'' about this mission which is mainly for the younger generation. Chandrayaan is very much a part of BMM's life.

          Ever since Santosh informed BMM about the trailer three days ago, it has been seeing it every day. BMM covered the launch of Chandrayaan at Sriharikota on October 22,2008 and it knows exactly the tense and exciting moments which unfolded prior to the grand lift off. With the permission of Santosh this blog has the trailer on top.

         Hats off to Santosh for capturing the thrill and excitement, though dramatically, As Santosh told BMM, the film is not a documentary, but more of a science fiction. For example, when the person playing the role of Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, becomes very angry when something went wrong, one wonders whether the real Dr Annadurai is of this type. Far from it. But, then let us remember that the film is supposed to be science fiction. So some deviations from reality have to be accepted. Remember Apollo 13 which BMM has seen more than 10 times.

         What is noteworthy is that Santosh has managed to get the exact words uttered by the different directors in the mission operations control room giving the green signal of the launch.``We are a go for the launch;'' ``On board computers in flight mode;'' and ``real time systems activitated.''  This is one of the reasons why Dr Annadurai after seeing the trailer sent by BMM on Friday night said that he was impressed that the film has captured minute details of the Indian moon mission. 

          Equally significant are the scenes depicting the various Isro centres where the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the satellite are taking shape.

          Regarding the person playing the role of Dr Kalam. Are you sure that is not the real Dr Kalam ? (!!!) What a resemblance. 

          Once again congrats to Santosh and his team on taking so much of trouble to portray the excitement and drama of the Indian moon mission in such a simple and interesting manner.  

           BMM is eagerly waiting to see the full film.     


Thursday, May 12, 2011

A dream which has yet to become a reality

          May 11 2011. Wednesday. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' sat in the auditorium of Barc's central complex at Trombay along with a handful of seientists and media colleagues waiting for what we all believed would be an important event.

        The occasion? The 13th anniv of India' nuke weapons' test at Pokhran. The speaker? None other than the drdo chief, V.K.Saraswat, who is also the scientific adviser to the defence minister.

         For such an important event, the hall was not full. What is further shocking was the fact that even the front row which is usually occupied by India's top nuke leaders like R.Chidambaram, Anil Kakodkar, P.K.Iyengar, was half empty. Surprisingly even the Barc director, R.K.Sinha, was absent. The only top shot present was chairman of atomic energy commission, S.Banerjee.

        Saraswat began by talking about innovations, with reference to the situation at the drdo and later shifted his focus to futuristic aerospace technologies which included the design and development of new types of rockets and satellites, The bulk of his presentation related to the scenario in the US; if you were looking for something India-specific, you were in for a disappointment.

        Later in an interaction with the media, Saraswat clarified that though his ppt was of a broad nature, some of the projects could be a part of drdo's future research work. Remember, the word used by him was future: this means that it could perhaps even stretch to the next century, No fixed time span indeed!

        Though Banerjee in his welcome address was full of praise for the drdo, everybody knows that its overall record is not too impressive. Yes, on the missile front it has had some degree of success and so also its colloboration with Barc in designing a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately in several other areas it has failed.

       Saraswat spoke a lot about Tejus---India's Light Combat Aircraft project. BMM recalls attending its well attended roll out on November 17, 1995 at Bangalore. On that day we were told by those connected with this project that it would be inducted into the IAF in about five years ie 2000. This was their dream. Now 16 year have passed and it remains a dream. All that has happened is that it has received operational clearance. Tejus has still to be inducted into the IAF.

       Likewise the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) project--Avatar--and a programme to increase the payload fraction in a rocket have also remained a dream.

       On Wednesday, nuke scientists celebrated the 13th anniv of India becoming a nuclear weapon country in the true sense. Their cherished dream had become a big reality and yes it was definately a moment to celebrate.

       Similarly, one hopes that some of the stellar dreams of the drdo do not just a remain a dream, but become a reality too.






Sunday, May 8, 2011

sats and sats

       Sats and Sats.

       Last week ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' reported in The Times of India, that satellites had played a key role in helping US forces to locate the hideout of Osama Bin Laden at Abottabad in Pakistan. They were American military satellites and worked flawlessly.

       This was a success story of space technology.

       But, a week later we hear that satellites because of technological limitations failed to spot the wreckage of the ill-fated Pawan Hans helicopter in which Arunachal Pradesh CM, Dorjee Khandu, was travelling.

       They were Isro's remote sensing satellites, and the ones which scanned the area were Kalpana-1, Resourcesat 1 and 2, Risat-2 and the Canadian Space Agency's Radarsat-2. The helicopter crashed on April 30 killing the CM and Isro's help was saught on May 1.

       Interestingly, the frank admission about the mission's failure does not come from any ill informed mediaperson or social activist, but none other than the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), a part of Isro, which processes images from the remote sensing satellites and distributes them to users..

      An announcement made by NRSC on Sunday states: ``The area where the accident occured was a rough mountaineous Himalayan terrain covered with a thick forest. Persistent cloudy conditions and incessant bad weather limited the use of optical remote sensing data.''

      It says: ``An attempt was made to use mircowave remote sensing data which can penetrate clouds and quickly image large areas in all weather conditions.''  But, this too proved unsuccessful because microwave sensors were sidelooking. Worse they did not have the capability to penetrate dense vegetation. Additionally, microwave data of short wavelength do not penetrate dense vegetation.

     What is the message?  Since these satellites did not quite serve their purpose---though they have performed exceptionally well on other occasions---Isro officials told BMM that the space agency needs to design and develop more radar imaging satellites. At present there is just a single satellite in this category---Risat-2. The launch of Risat-1 is slated for later this year.

      This failure comes close on the heels of the spectacular success of the PSLV last week which partially lifted Isro out of its crisis. But again the set back with regards to the satellites' inability to locate the wreckage of the helicopter will revive memories of some of the other disasters faced by Isro, especially the two failures of the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

      But, then in space technology failures are inevitable and are viewed as a learning experience.

      It is often stated that 26X11 led to quick design and development of Risat-2. Maybe the unfortunate experience at Arunachal Pradesh will result in the making of more powerful radar imaging satellites.

      Indian remote sensing satellites have set a world record and their ability has even been acknowledged by international users.

      Let them retain this tradition.

      We are proud of them.  

       An announcement made by

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

50th anniv of first American in space

        In May 1995, my wife, Usha and I were in the US and as a part of our tour we visited Houston.

        We spent an entire morning at the Johnson Space Centre, which is quite far from Houston city. That evening we visited a shopping mall and our taxi driver who took us back to our hotel, pointed out to us the golf course where Alan Shepherd played. He then provided us some interesting tit bits about Shepherd when he was in Houston.

       ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' remembered this on May 5,2011 because it happens to be the 50th anniversary of the first American in space who was none other than Alan Shepherd. Having suffered a serious defeat in the manned spaceflight programme once again at the hands of the Russians with the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the US, hurriedly wanted to catch up which resulted in the 15-minute sub orbital flight by Shepherd.

        Explorer-1 followed Sputnik and Shepherd followed Gagarin. Frankly, it was only with the first human landing on the moon on July 20,1969 that the Americans achieved a major space spectacular.

        The 50th year of the first American in space, somehow has not attracted as much international publicity or attention as Gagarin's flight did. Ask any person in India the name of the first American in space and do not be shocked if he or she blinks. They may certainly know the name of the first person who stood on the surface of the moon---Neil Armstrong--who has become a household word. Armstrong's achievement has overshadowed that of Shepherd's.

       Going by the past record, one would have thought that Nasa would have gone to town with the 50th anniv. But, it has not happened. There are some minor events to mark the anniv which includes the release of stamps honouring Shepherd and also a crater on Mars being named after him. That is all.

       The Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Mumbai had organised atleast a photo show to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight on April 13,2011. Why did not the American Information Resource Centre organise a similar thing to mark the 50th anniv of the first American in space?

       Not many are perhaps aware that Shepherd also has the unique distinction of being the first person who played golf on the moon when he was a part of the Apollo 14 mission.

       Twenty days from now ie on May 25,1961, it will be the 50h anniv of Kennedy's famous speech at the Capitol which proclaimed US's decision to send a man to the moon and return him safely.

       Let us wait for the anniv.      



A Space Event in a different way!

      This is a somewhat unknown story about  US's Bin Laden operation on Sunday.

      How many are aware that space technology had played a key role in this mission?

      Satellltes, both private and those of the military, provided data to the US intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, and helped planners of this mission to identify Osama Bin Laden's hidehout at Abottabad in Pakistan. It is absolutely clear that but for space technology, this mission would not have succeeded.

      The two main satellite systems which had played a major part in this operation were those of the Defence Satellite Communication Systems and Milstar short for Military Strategic and Tactical Relay.

      On Sunday, when action was in full swing at ground zero in Abottabad, the data was transmitted to the satellites, which in turn flashed the information to the situation room in White House allowing President Obama and his team of advisers to watch the drama unfold in real time.

      The satellites also provided communication between ground zero and US military bases  The Navy Seal Team which carried out the attack wore helmets equipped with cameras which captured the action live and transmitted the images to the satellite which in turn flashed it to the Situation Room at the White House.

      They helped to corroborate the tip off from Humint.  The satellite imageries provided the US assault team a detailed view of Bin Laden's compound which were processed at the National Geo Spatial Intelligence Agency (NGSA), near Washington DC.

      The NGSA applied a range of geospatial intelligence (geoint) capabilities including imagery, geospatial and targeting analysis, along with image sciences and modelling which supplemented the data from the CIA and the National Security Agency. Through they were able to produce a mock up of the Bin Laden compound for rehearsing the attack.

      Let us first talk about the satellites of the Defence Satellite Communication System (DSCS). There are nearly 20 satellites under this system which provide military communication to American military bases across the globe.

      Designated as DSCS-3, these satellites have improved resistance to hostile activities such as jamming. The satellites beam signals to ground stations having a diameter ranging from 35 inches to 60 feet. Signals were broadcsst in six channels between 7250 and 8400 MHz. They also carry a single channel transponder which can be used to transmit emergency action messages from the American President to nuclear force.

      The DSCS-3 weighs 2580 pounds and it costs about dollars 100,000,000. The project is managed by the Air Force Space Command and the satellites are placed 22,300 miles above the equator in the geo synchronous orbit The solar arrays spanning 38 feet generate 1,100 watts of electricity..

       The satellites's communication sub system includes six independent radio frequency channels and what are known as jammer location electronics. According to the US Air Force. each satellite uses six super high frequency transponder channels.

       The system is built single and mutiple beam antennas that provide more flexible coverage than the earlier version of the satellites.

       The satellites provide secure military communication services in each of the five areas which are east Pacific, West Atlantic, East Atlantic, Indian Ocean and West Pacific. In all probability, the Bin Laden operation was a part of the Indian Ocean Region.

       The Milstar system consists of three segments. These are (1) the satellite, (2) ground terminal and users and (3) stations which command and control the satellites. Each satellite costs 800 million dollars having a design life of 10 years. They weigh 9,900 pounds and serve as a switchboard to direct traffic between the satellite and terminals on the earth.

      The Pentagon also obtained pics of the hideout from private space bodies like GeoEye and Digital Globe.

       It was truly a space event in a difference sense!