ISRO Eyes World Record, To Visit Venus & Mars Soon

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New Delhi: Buried and hidden in the hundreds of pages of the new format electronic budget documents, is the first formal acknowledgement by the government about these two new bold inter-planetary sojourns to Earth’s immediate neighbours.

This uplifting news comes ahead of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) attempting to undertake its mega launch where it will drop off into space not one, two or three but a full load of 104 satellites in space in a single mission.

No other country has ever tried to hit a century in a single mission. The last world record is held by Russia which in 2014 rocketed 37 satellites in a single launch using a modified inter-continental ballistic missile.

If all goes according to plan, on the morning of February 15, ISRO will hurl into space using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) three Indian satellites and a 101 small foreign satellites.

India is hoping to better the previous world record by a whopping two-and-a-half times. ISRO, considered the new kid on the block in the multi-billion dollar world launcher market, hopes to set an enviable benchmark for the space fairing nations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s love affair with space is quite evident. The government, it seems, is rather pleased with the Indian space agency as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave the Department of Space a whopping 23 per cent increase in its budget. Under the space sciences section, the budget mentions provisions “for Mars Orbiter Mission II and Mission to Venus”.

The second mission to Mars is tentatively slated for in 2021-2022 timeframe and as per existing plans it may well involve putting a robot on the surface of the Red Planet.

While India’s first mission to Mars undertaken in 2013 was a purely Indian mission, the French space agency wants to collaborate in making the Mars rover.

In fact on a visit to India this month, Michael M Watkins, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, said they would be keen to at least put a telematics module so NASA’s rovers and the Indian satellites are able to talk to each other.

Eighty-eight of the American satellites belong to a San Francisco based start-up company Planet Inc which is sending a swarm of small 4.7 kg each satellite it calls ‘Doves’. This constellation will image earth like never before and with a high repeat rate providing satellite imagery at an affordable cost.

This suite of 101 small satellites all together weighing 664 kg will be released in space in a manner akin to a typical school bus which drops of its passengers namely children at their respective bus stops in a sequential manner, avoiding squabbling and elbowing in near zero gravity is not easy.

Ensuring that no collisions take place even is an art that ISRO has mastered from previous launches. In less than 600 seconds all 101 satellites will be released into space each travelling at whopping velocity of over 27,000 km per hour or at 40 times the speed of an average passenger airliner.

Some experts are suggesting that in a bid to earn some money ISRO is actually contributing significantly to the creation of space junk as these small satellites are really not very useful.

But Laura Grego, Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, USA says, “I think that these launches can be done responsibly and provide benefits to all people. Developing a culture of responsible space launch and operations is key as more and more countries become space-faring.

“While the number of countries that can launch satellites independently is still quite small, many dozens of countries own and operate satellites.”

Kasturirangan says, “India has the capability putting several satellites in a single launch and demonstrating that capability is certainly not bad as it adds to India’s credibility and then later if ISRO deploys this capability of formation flying in a constellation of its own satellites it would be a useful addition to its arsenal.”