Mission Chandrayaan || Neo Science Hub || Space technology

Vikram landing on the Moon : Still few frontiers left to achieve

Apollo program was a brainchild of President Kennedy’s regime, having faced moments of losing out to the then competitor, USSR on both the accounts of 1st artificial satellite (Sputnik) to leave earth and also to place the human into the space (Yuri Gagarin). Americans gave their best efforts in placing the 1st human on the Moon; to showcase the supremacy of human kind on the Moon.

Having fulfilled the dreams of VikramSarabahai, the father of Indian space program, in achieving a grand success both in terms of building robust rockets to reach the low earth polar orbits (PSLV) and geo-synchronous orbits (GSLV); India looked up to Moon as the next target.  Reaching Moon in its 1st attempt by Chandrayaan-I was the reward to the hard work and commitment shown by the engineers/scientist of ISRO in 2008. By discovering water on the moon, Chandrayaan-I achieved much more than what has been predicted prior to the conception of this project.

Mission Chandrayaan Space craft || Neo Science Hub
Space Craft Mission Chandrayaan

After the very successful project of reaching the moon where India had spent a meager Rs. 385-crores for Chandrayaan-I, India now plans to land on the moon. The present project called as Chandrayaan-II is expected to cost India around 900-crores. Having reached planet Mars in its first attempt, ISRO now plans for another FIRST to its credit trying to land near the south pole of moon which is notorious of having permanently shadowed regions around; at the same time it can be considered as an interesting location to explore buried water in the form of ice.

Here are few questions which are worth answering as India planned for a soft landing on the lunar south pole

  1. Importance of the Chandrayan 2 in the context of the Indian space programme and for the world space explorations.

ISRO had been the star of Indian government funded programs. With the success of placing low earth orbits by PSLV and geo-stationary satellites GSLV rockets; ISRO was sailing very smoothly in their mandated 5-years progress plans. The Planetary exploration program was started by the turn of Chandrayaan-I in 2008 where India desired to showcase its technological prowess to the world. It was called a technology demonstrator for lunar exploration. The thumping success of Chandraayn-I in its 1st attempt is remarkable considering the history lessons humans have gone through. In the ranger mission during 1961-65; NASA had to face 6-consecutive failures in sending a space craft to moon; while India made it to the moon in its very first attempt. Chandrayaan-I had 11-instruments to study the moon out of which 6-were placed by foreign nations upon India’s free ride call; called “opportunity payloads”. One among the 6-instruments was called Moon Impact Probe, a President Kalam idea of sending a “messenger” from India which would touch the lunar soil.

The next logical step for ISRO was to perform detailed experiments on the lunar soil by sending a soft landing rover. However, with the celestial window opening for the visit of planet Mars in the next 4-years; ISRO got the approval from the then government to send a spacecraft to planet Mars. India had a competition in the form of MAVEN spacecraft which was also heading to Mars. India came up with flying colors again in the year 2014, becoming the not the first country every to reach planet Mars in its 1st attempt. A journey lasting 10-months and a series of complex maneuverables to reach planet Mars. Making it to planet Mars and successfully running the mission for much longer periods than forecasted amount of time was great achievement; with a huge bonus of developing each and every bit of mission (rocket, communication, power and science instruments) indigenously.

Chandrayaan-2 was a logical step for ISRO to take up a in-depth study of nearest stellar body, the moon. This involved not only sending the space craft to the moon but also to land softly on the moon. Chandrayaan-2 had 2-major challenges: 1. Send it on rocket which can carry 4-tons, 2. Land a rover on the moon to carry out experiments. This is apart form the routine tasks 3. of making it to the moon in series of maneuvers which will place the space craft around the moon, 4. Building very appropriate set of instruments to run experiments on the moon.

2. What is Chandrayan 2 for India and how it empowered our space missions.

Chandrayaan-2 is an end to end solution of designing and developing a landing technology on an external terrestrial object and perform a series of advance science experiments to explore the nearby ambiance. In a way, it propelled India in the most advanced group of countries which are capable of developing a complex mission to Moon.

3. What are lessons we learned from this mission

The most crucial lessons learned from Chandrayaan-2 is : no matter how hard you have prepared and no matter how successful you had been in the recent past; what matters is the very  precise planning for a given set of task and making many simulations of that experiment on the earth. The case in point is landing episode of Vikram. Though, ISRO has come out with flying colors both in Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan; it was in the soft landing on the Moon where ISRO’s all possible planning and hard work had to face a toughest task and had to face this day of dejection. ISRO had already predicted it to be 15-minutes of terror; but still at the end of the day it was proven that all your hard work and dedication is NOT sufficient to climb the last goal post, you need to further horn your skills.

4.  Where is ISRO in the world space trade

Though ISRO has been involved in various satellite launches of third world countries along with the western nations; ISRO has consistently maintained a strict vigil on expanding the indigenous  space programs rather than improving the income from outsourcing the resources.

5. What are the challenges for our space mission

Space missions are ruthless. Even a single mistake out of 100-tasks performed could lead to a catastrophe. The bad part is, space missions will never give any opportunity to rectify your faults. For example, the Vikram landing was thought over and a robust mission sequence was made to be able to land Vikram safely on the moon. All the numerical calculations were checked and got approved by the experts who have decades of experience in this field. However, the one which was lacking was the practical experiments which were needed to be performed as per lunar conditions. This was the toughest part; 1. The lack of lunar atmosphere; which is very difficult to prepare on the earth. 2. Creating very fast objects which are to be checked for applying breaks (as in the case of stopping Vikram).

6. As a nation where are we failing our students in developing the scientific temperament

Contrary to the general public view of making fast money via IT jobs and other engineering fields; the ISRO’s planetary programs are inspiring our youth to their fullest potential to join the vibrant India’s space program. A mad rush in producing many more engineers across the country is a trap our country is falling. The policy makers should play a very important role of inspiring country’s youth into joining the various upcoming fields which could offer employment to them.

7. How to over come the challenges @ ISRO

ISRO’s mantra of “Seeing is Believing” has already worked. They also have a large set of regulations in running a project from the conceptual stage to executing to finally making it successful; its called Project management Program. Another crucial section called Quality and Assurance team. Of course a generation of heritage which is passed on by a very accomplished set of senior project directors and other senior scientists. This culture of ISRO has been a testimony to passing of many milestones. Certainly, it will be the same grind of ISRO which is going to drive the wheel of success in the future too.

8. Inspiration that we derive from the Chandrayan 2 for our future endeavors

Take one: building confidence on just a 3-flight old GSLV mkIII was a huge morale boost for team ISRO. Also the confidence shown by the team of experts in aborting the launch just few minutes before the launch is huge credit and an inspiration for the next generation to believe that its OK to stop the mission even if it is a minor gas leak.

Take two: repeating a complex set of procedures to reach out to the moon is a huge lesson. One must not forget that even a very small mistake here would have never let the space craft to be captured by the moon. The lander separation in lunar atmosphere is another first in the books of firsts for ISRO. Take three: Even though it was realized that they are going to face terror like situation; no matter how hard and complex the mission is; never ever be complacent; prepare hard and perform as many tests as they are possible on the ground.

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