Let not the vested interests fool you: Chandrayaan-2 launch has not failed, it has only been delayed

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too — Chandrayaan 2 is the perfect exception to this rule.

 |  17-minute read |   18-07-2019
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Chandrayaan-2 was set for a launch in the wee hours of July 15 but that had to be postponed by a few weeks due to a last-minute technical snag. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) took the right call and a sensible one because, as they say, it is better to be safe than sorry, especially given the sheer scale and complexity of what India is seeking to achieve, where few nations have even dared to tread. This is simply a delayed launch and not a failure as some vested interests would like to have people believe. In fact, space scientists say, such kind of delays are routine and have happened in the past in other countries too. European Vega rocket launch on July 11 is a case in point.

The rocket, carrying an imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates, failed about two minutes after liftoff from the European base in French Guiana. Recently, Russia too had a failed launch and the cosmonauts had to make an emergency exit. If anything, ISRO's brave scientists need to be commended for taking a tough call amid all the media hype and hoopla.

It is worth noting here that India’s most powerful launch vehicle GSLV Mk III, named Baahubali, which will carry Chandrayaan-2, can carry satellites weighing up to 4,000 kg to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is about twice the capability of current GSLV Mk II and more than thrice that of ISRO’s workhorse, Polar Satellite Vehicle (PSLV).

chandra690_071619060315.jpg Chandrayaan-2 launch might be delayed for now, but needless to say, it is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by ISRO. (Photo: India Today)

GSLV Mk-III, which had an experimental flight in 2014, has till date been successfully used in two launches, namely the GSAT-19 communication satellite in 2017 and GSAT-29 communication satellite in November 2018. 

"GSLV has already proven itself to be reliable. Such a hold-up in the automatic checkout systems of the launch sequence is routine in many other countries too. I don't think it is fair to conclude that GSLV is unpredictable just because the checkout systems detected an anomaly," said Narayan Prasad, co-founder of Satsearch, a European Space Agency-supported start-up, after ISRO decided to delay the Chandrayaan-2 launch.

Chandrayaan-2 will carry a total of 14 payloads — 13 from India and one passive payload from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — with special focus on mapping craters in the polar region, besides checking for water, demystifying the chemical composition of the moon's surface and the secrets behind earth's formation and the early solar system. The US’ Laser Retroreflector Array or LRA will be hosted by Vikram. Once launched, Chandrayaan-2 will take more than 50 days to soft-land Vikram (the lander) on the lunar surface, making India only the fourth nation in the world to achieve the feat.

Unlike Chandrayaan-1, the Rs 978-crore mission involves landing Vikram and unloading Pragyan (the rover), while the orbiter will go around the moon. Despite the mission coming in during the 50th anniversary of the first man landing on the moon, it is a mission the world will sit up and take note of. It is also a mission that will boost ISRO's ties with NASA. 

lander690_071619060330.jpg The lander, ‘Vikram’ is going to unload the rover ‘Pragyan’ and the Orbiter will go around the moon. (Photo: India Today)

Chandrayaan-1 was originally cleared by ex-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. Chandrayaan-2 was initially cleared by ex-PM Manmohan Singh in 2008, but got persistently derailed, thanks to the lethargy of the Congress-led UPA dispensation. It was meant to be launched way back in 2012, as part of a collaborative mission with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, which was to provide the lander module. The Russians however, withdrew from Chandrayaan-2, after a similarly designed lander by them for another mission, developed problems in 2011. It is true that India came under a slew of international sanctions in 1974 when it conducted its first nuclear test and then again in 1998 after the Pokhran tests. Most of the sanctions were lifted in the early 2000s and the last of them after 2008 when India and the US signed a civil nuclear cooperation pact. Hence, the stubbornly flimsy excuse of the erstwhile Congress-led establishments that India's space programme suffered in the past due to global sanctions does not hold much water.

Needless to add that India's space outreach that had been seriously compromised on some pretext or the other under the Congress-led UPA, got wings only under the Narendra Modi-led BJP coalition post May 2014, with ISRO turning adversities into opportunities by deciding to design, develop and build the lander on its own — something it had never attempted earlier.

A befitting example of the Modi government's commitment to India's space missions is also evident from the fact that the Cartosat Two Series programme, launched in February 2017, has been one of the most complex missions handled by the ISRO. It involved injecting into space a record total of 104 satellites in a delicate sequence — within a deadline — without them colliding with each other, in one go. Again, as recently as March 27, vide Mission Shakti, India added enormous punch to its offensive defence capability after an Indian missile successfully shot down a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite registering India's credentials as a space power under the astute leadership of PM Modi.

shakti690_071619060348.jpg DRDO’s Mission Shakti was truly one of a kind — it shot down a low-earth orbit satellite and made India a space superpower. (Photo: India Today)

Mission Shakti entailed striking an object located at an altitude of 300 km and moving at a speed of 25,200 km per hour, a precision that required consummate technological sophistication. Consequently, India has now joined an elite club of nations possessing Anti-Satellite Missile Technology (ASAT), which prior to March 2019, was the exclusive preserve of the US, Russia and China. Critics, who have wrongly dismissed Mission Shakti, need to understand that post this mission, it would be almost impossible for say, China, to track down and destroy Indian spy satellites and that is not something that should be dismissed.

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 72nd Independence Day in August 2018, Prime Minister Modi announced that India has resolved to send a manned spacecraft to space by 2021-22 and India will be only the fourth country to do this. So far, only the USA, Russia and China have launched human spaceflight missions. ISRO has developed some critical technologies like re-entry mission capability, crew escape system, crew module configuration, thermal protection system, deceleration and floatation system, sub-systems of life support system etc, required for this programme. Some of these technologies have been demonstrated successfully through the Crew module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE-2014) and Pad Abort Test (2018). 

Launches by ISRO in 2018 during the Modi 1.0

i) ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its 40-second flight, PSLV-C40 successfully launched the 710 kg Cartosat-2 Series Remote Sensing Satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites on January 12, 2018, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. The 11 kg INS-1C and the 100 kg class Microsat were the two Indian co-passenger satellites of Cartosat-2. The 28 international customer satellites belonged to Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the USA.

asat690_071619060449.jpg India’s achievements in the area of space warfare are truly unparalleled. (Photo: India Today)

ii) India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F08) successfully launched GSAT-6A Satellite into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on March 29, 2018. This was the 5th consecutive success achieved by GSLV carrying indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage. GSAT-6A is a communication satellite built by ISRO to provide mobile communication services through multi-beam coverage. For this, it is equipped with S and C band transponders.

iii) In its 43rd flight, ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C41 successfully launched the 1,425 kg IRNSS-1I Navigation Satellite on April 12, 2018, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. IRNSS-1I is the latest member of the ‘Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC)’ system. NavIC, also known as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), is an independent regional navigation satellite system designed to provide position information in the Indian region and 1,500 km around the Indian mainland.

iv) The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) of ISRO successfully launched two satellites — NovaSAR and S1-4 — from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota on September 16, 2018. The satellites belong to UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), which has a contract with Antrix Corporation Ltd, the commercial arm of ISRO. NovaSAR carries S-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Automatic Identification Receiver payloads. The satellite applications include forestry mapping, land use and ice cover monitoring, flood and disaster monitoring and maritime missions. It will be operated from SSTL’s Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford, UK. S1-4 is a high-resolution earth observation satellite meant for surveying resources, environment monitoring, urban management and disaster monitoring.

v) ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C43) successfully launched 31 satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) on November 29, 2018, in Sriharikota. HysIS is an earth observation satellite built around ISRO’s Mini Satellite2 (IMS-2) bus weighing about 380 kg. The mission life of the satellite is five years. The primary goal of HysIS is to study the earth’s surface in both the visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. HysIS had the company of one micro and 29 nano-satellites from eight countries, including Australia (1), Canada (1), Columbia (1), Finland (1), Malaysia (1), Netherlands (1), Spain (1) and USA (23).

pslv690_071619060508.jpg ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle successfully launched 31 satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on November 29, 2018. (Photo: India Today)

vi) India’s GSAT-29 communication satellite was successfully launched by the 2nd developmental flight of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle MarkIII (GSLV MkIII-D2) today from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, on November 14, 2018. GSLV Mk III is a three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). GSAT-29 is a multiband, multi-beam communication satellite, intended to serve as a testbed for several new and critical technologies. Its Ku-band and Ka-band payloads are configured to cater to the communication requirements of users including those from remote areas especially from Jammu & Kashmir and North-Eastern regions of India.

vii) ISRO’s heaviest and most-advanced high throughput communication satellite GSAT-11 was successfully launched from the Spaceport in French Guiana during the early hours on December 5, 2018. GSAT-11 will act as a forerunner to all future high throughput communication satellites. The 5,854-kg GSAT-11 will provide high data rate connectivity to users of Indian mainland and islands through 32 user beams in Ku-band and 8 hub beams in Ka-band.

viii) ISRO’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F11) successfully launched the communication satellite GSAT-7A from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota on December 19, 2018. GSAT-7A is the heaviest satellite launched by GSLV with an indigenously developed cryogenic stage. GSAT-7A is an advanced communication satellite with a Gregorian Antenna and many other new technologies.

On June 6, 2018, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the PSLV Continuation Programme (Phase 6) and funding of thirty PSLV operational flights under the programme. The programme will also meet the launch requirement of satellites for Earth observation, Navigation and Space Sciences. This will also ensure the continuity of production in the Indian industry. The total fund requirement is Rs. 6,131 crores and includes the cost of 30 PSLV vehicles, essential facility augmentation, Programme Management and Launch Campaign. The Cabinet also approved funding for the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) continuation programme (Phase-I) consisting of ten (10) GSLV (Mk-III) flights, at a total estimated cost of Rs. 4,338.20 crores.

Discovery of a sub-Saturn or super-Neptune sized planet

A team of scientists and engineers led by Professor Abhijit Chakraborty of Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, discovered a sub-Saturn or super-Neptune sized planet (mass of about 27 Earth Mass and size of 6 Earth Radii) around a Sun-like star. The planet will be known as EPIC 211945201b or K2-236b. With this discovery, India has joined a handful of countries, which have discovered planets around stars beyond our solar system. Further, PARAS is the first of its kind spectrograph in Asia, which can measure the mass of a planet going around a star. Very few spectrographs exist around the world that can do such precise measurements.

planets690_071619060530.jpg The discovery of a sub-Saturn or super-Neptune sized planet made India one of the few countries which have discovered planets beyond our solar system. (Photo: India Today)

Pad Abort Test successful to qualify Crew Escape System required for human spaceflight 

ISRO carried out Pad Abort Test successfully to qualify Crew Escape System required for Human Spaceflight, on July 5, 2018, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. As part of the activities for the development of critical technologies for future Human Spaceflight, Pad Abort Test was carried out to demonstrate the Crew Escape System during any exigency at the launch pad. The Crew Escape System is configured using specially designed quick-acting solid motors that deliver a relatively large thrust to take the crew module to a safe distance. Experimental data from this mission will serve as a useful input to undertake human spaceflight programme. An amount of Rs.173 crores is approved for the development of critical technologies including Crew Escape System.

Transfer of the in-house developed Li-ion cell technology to competent Indian Industries 

One of the major Centres of ISRO, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), offered to transfer the in-house developed Li-ion cell technology to competent Indian Industries on a non-exclusive basis to establish Li-ion cell production facilities in the country. This initiative is expected to enable Zero Emission Policy of India and accelerate the development of indigenous electric vehicle industry.

MoU between ISRO and Central University of Jammu

ISRO signed an MoU with the Central University of Jammu (CUJ) for setting up of the Satish Dhawan Center for Space Science in the University, on October 11, 2018. Another MoU was signed between CUJ and the Central Scientific Instruments Organization (CSIR-CSIO) to create awareness about space research and to motivate young minds to take up research related to space, astronomy, geology, atmospheric sciences and related fields, a two-day workshop was also inaugurated at the CUJ campus.

MoU between MHA and ISRO

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and ISRO, Department of Space, signed a MoU in New Delhi on September 20, 2018, for setting up of a state-of-the-art Integrated Control Room for Emergency Response (ICR-ER) in Ministry of Home Affairs. ISRO will render its technical expertise for setting up of proposed ICR-ER whereas the project will be executed under the overall supervision of MHA. The proposed control room is expected to be established in the next one-and-a-half year.

tajikistann690_071619060550.jpg The MoU between India and Tajikistan will set up a Joint Working Group which will further flesh out the MoU. (Photo: Reuters)

MoUs with foreign countries

During the year 2018, India signed various MoUs with foreign countries. The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was apprised of these MoUs. These agreements are:

MoU between India and Tajikistan on Cooperation for Peaceful uses of Space Technology for Development.

The MoU was signed on October 8, 2018, at Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The MoU would lead to set up a Joint Working Group, drawing members from DOS/ISRO and the State Committee of Land Management and Geodesy of Republic of Tajikistan, which will further work out the plan of action including the time-frame and the means of implementing this MoU.

Agreement between India and Uzbekistan on Cooperation in exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes.

The agreement was signed on October 1, 2018, at New Delhi during the State visit of the President of Uzbekistan to India. The signing of the agreement will strengthen the cooperation between India and Uzbekistan and would provide impetus to explore newer research activities and application possibilities in the field of remote sensing, satellite communication, satellite navigation, space science and exploration of outer space.

MoU between India and Morocco for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. 

The MoU was signed at New Delhi on September 25, 2018. The MoU would lead to set up a Joint Working Group, drawing members from DOS/ISRO and Royal Centre for Remote Sensing (CRTS) and the Royal Centre for Space Research and Studies (CRERS), which will further work out the plan of action including the time-frame and the means of implementing the MoU.

Agreement between India and Algeria on Cooperation in the field of Space Sciences, Technologies and Applications. 

algeria690_071619060613.jpgThe MoU between India and Algeria aims to provide impetus to explore newer research activities. (Photo: Twitter/ indianalgeria)

The Agreement was signed at Bengaluru on September 19, 2018. The signing of the Agreement will strengthen the cooperation between India and Algeria, and provide impetus to explore newer research activities and application possibilities in the field of remote sensing of the earth, satellite navigation, space science and exploration of outer space.

MoU between India and Brunei Darussalam on Cooperation in the operation of Telemetry Tracking and Telecommand station for satellite and launch vehicles, and for cooperation in the field of Space Research, Science and Applications.

The MoU was signed in New Delhi on July 19, 2018.

MoU between India and South Africa on cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes.

The MoU was signed in Johannesburg on July 26, 2018. The signing of this MoU shall enable pursuing the potential areas of cooperation such as space science, technology and applications including remote sensing of the earth, satellite communication and satellite-based navigation, space science and planetary exploration, use of spacecraft and space systems and ground systems, and application of space technology.

MoU signed between India represented by the ISRO and Oman represented by the Ministry of Transport and Communications on Cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, in February 2018 at Muscat.

This MoU shall enable the following areas of cooperation such as space science, technology and applications including remote sensing of the earth, satellite-based navigation, space science and planetary exploration, use of spacecraft and space systems and ground system, and application of space technology.

To sum up, it would suffice to say that, be it Mission Shakti, Chandrayaan-2 or the most ambitious of the lot, the upcoming Gaganyaan, India's scientists and organisations like ISRO and DRDO deserve all the accolades that will continue to come their way. Both Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0 governments have invested more than mere resources in space research and exploration. PM Narendra Modi has invested his personal credibility and it is only a matter of time before Chandrayaan-2 accomplishes a controlled soft landing of the rover on the lunar south pole, unlike Chandrayaan-1, which only orbited around the moon.

Landing a rover in a controlled descent, to explore lunar terrain and unravel the unsolved mysteries in the deep craters of the moon, using homegrown, indigenous technology, will be a first for India, also making it only the fourth country in the world to do so. That the ambitious Chandrayaan-2 costs less than half of what it took to make a Hollywood blockbuster like Avengers Endgame, or say, a movie like Interstellar, is, of course, the added icing on the cake.

Sometimes, you can have your cake and eat it too and Chandrayaan-2 fits the bill perfectly.

Also Read: Deconstructing Chandrayaan 2 Glitch: In the time of crisis, every voice matters and the leader must do the right thing


Sanju Verma Sanju Verma @sanju_verma_

Author is an economist and chief spokesperson for BJP Mumbai.

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