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ISRO's Deep Space Venture

The Indian Space Research Organisation's moon mission marks the first venture into "deep space" for an indigenous satellite. India now joins a select club of nations which have achieved this "milestone".

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW November 8, 200821the market. PE comprised the largest com-ponent of FDI in the country and much of it was in real estate, especially high value malls, luxury apartments and gated condos. The collapse of private equity has put paid to this saga. Projects are being abandoned, sold off or held by bankrupt-cy courts. Highly leveraged companies, prime movers in the sector, can no longer hope to draw on vanishing hedge funds. These developments are reflected in banks’ liquidity tantrums. Earlier,PE partners would forge arrangements with banks and institutions, Indian or foreign, through any means. With their brand image and clout, they could arrange or guarantee large value loans and could even get them counter-guaranteed by affiliates abroad. These links have snapped. In the absence of PE alliances, Indian contractors and subcontractors have lost their credit standing with banks. Down the line, contractors and sub-contractors in areas like steel, cement, ma-chinery, electrical, etc, who service the real estate sector have lost their standing. In the past, PE firms stood guarantee for them. The mid-term review draws atten-tion to the deceleration (from 7.1 to 3.4%) in infrastructure in all sectors except coal. In large measure, it may be traced to the black hole created by the exit of PE. There is an assumption that our economic growth is driven by domestic demand. RBI refers to this in the mid-termreview. It may seem so but super-ficially. However, as narrated here, domestic demand itself has been driven in recent years by the shadow of foreign capital. When the shadow recedes, the impact will not be restricted to banks but will go deeper into the real economy. Much more than bank liquidity is required to lift the economy from its present state. The liquid-ity corridor lacks the flexibility to operate when the flows are in reverse gear and it is stalked by ghosts.ISRO’s Deep Space VenturePallava BaglaThe Indian Space Research Organisation’s moon mission marks the first venture into “deep space” for an indigenous satellite. India now joins a select club of nations which have achieved this “milestone”.On a rainy October morning as most of India slept, and the sun had barely peeped out from beh-ind the ominous cloud bank at India’s space port, an apparatus weighing 316 tonnes, spewing fire, leapt up from the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The launch of a mission to the moon has been heralded as a new dawn for India’s space research agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).The country’s first-ever mission to the moon lifted off successfully from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSc) at Sriharikotaat 6.22 am on 22 October. It was a flawless launch for the mission – titled Chandrayaan-1. The event catapulted India into a small clutch of space-faring nations across the world. Calling it a historic moment achieved against tremendous odds, G Madhavan Nair, chairman of the ISRO, said “today what we have charted is a remarkable journey for an Indian space-craft to go to the moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the Earth’s closest celestial body and its only natural satellite”.Chandrayaan-1 was launched into an elliptical transfer orbit using the indige-nously built rocket, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C11 (PSLV-C11). This was the 14th flight fromSDSC for the PSLV workhorse. Thirteen of the launches have been con-secutively successful – an enviable track record since rocket launches around the world are notorious for failures. The suc-cess of the launch finally allayed prior concerns about lightning bursts that were occurring in the vicinity due to rain and stormy weather and a fuel leak on the launch pad also caused some concerns. Making of HistoryChandrayaan-1 is an Indian mission with international partners. With six scientific instruments from the United States, the European Space Agency and Bulgaria, Chandrayaan-1 stands out from all its other Asian counterparts in its payload. There is a clear signal going out – inter-national collaboration is certainly critical in the modern, global ethos of space research. The five Indian instruments will map the lunar resources through remote sensing. India’s first unmanned satellite to the moon is the cheapest lunar mission among the Asian lunar missions, with Chan-drayaan-1 costing Rs 386 crore – almost a quarter of what the Japanese mission Kaguya cost and half the overall cost of the latest Chinese moon mission Chang’e-1. Incidentally, despite the low costs, the Indian mission has double the lifetime of all the current lunar missions. This is the first time in the history of the nearly 50-year-old Indian space pro- gramme that an Indian space mission is attempting to move beyond the earth’s orbit. It is but obvious that the journey into Pallava Bagla ( is co-author of the book Destination Moon and is science editor for the news channel, NDTV.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW November 8, 200823focused on generating a mineralogical map of the moon, using the scientific technique of spectral separation. There is also a High Energy X-ray Spectrometer (HEX) designed to study emissions on the moon due to the radio decay of uranium and thorium. A Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI) will use pulses of light to illuminate the surface of the moon and study scattering, absorption and re-emission through a detector. It will therefore provide details of topo-graphy on the moon. All these instru-ments have been accommodated on what is called a one tonne satellite bus that ISRO has used for building the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. The many complex units of this bus must work in unison for the two-year mission to be successful in its entirety. This will be no mean achievement as several complicated systems have to function in a sequential and parallel manner over a very long period of time in the hostile environment near the moon. This is a serious gear shift for the Indian programme from its earth bound people- oriented objective, to exploring the fron-tiers of “deep space”. Moving from a thrust on applications to exploration of space at the cutting edge of planetary science has been a long and arduous journey for Indian space scientists. Indian scientists are already preparing for the second mission to the moon called Chandrayaan-2 in which an unmanned lander and a rover will be placed on the lunar surface in 2012, this will be done in collaboration with Russia. ‘National Prestige’Chandrayaan-1 is expressly a scientific mission but it has geopolitical overtones as well. Carried piggyback on the lunar craft is an impactor probe carrying the Indian flag that will be sent down to the moon’s surface, making India only the fourth nation to place its national flag on the moon after Russia,US and Japan. This is expected to happen within this year when this instrument with the Indian tricolour painted on it, will crash-land on the moon’s surface. But for the satellite to do all this, a giant dish antenna will be used to keep track of the Indian moon mission. It will both sendand receive signals to Chandrayaan, not easy since when once it is inside the moon’s orbit, the Indian space craft will be almost 400,000 km away and thesignalswould be very, very faint. Weighing 60 tonnes this indigenously made, unwieldy and giant antenna cost Rs 100 crore to build andwillnowbea permanent asset for all upcoming deep space missions, with its ability to track such missions. It is located in the village of Bylalu outside Bangalore, and would provide the tracking and command support for India’s first mission to the moon. The area around Bylalu was ideal in many ways for the setting up of the country’s first Deep Space NetworkStation. A potholed road leads up to this rugged, ruralareaoutside Bangalore that is part ofanatural crater. More than 100 acres of land for this hamlet was acquired from villagers to build Bylalu as India’s “moon village”. ISRO’s Other ‘Missions’Now that India’s challenging maiden moon mission is underway willISRO move away from focusing on people’s problems? “No”, explains Nair who adds that “in the Indian context we are committed to tak-ing the space technology for grass root ap-plications. We have done that and we will continue to do so. So nearly 80% of ISRO’s budget is still going to be spent on pro-grammes which are relevant to the common man.” Satellites in space have meant different things for a lot of people across India in the last few decades since the country’s first satellites were launched. The space programme has touched lives in India in many ways. Telemedicine is one such and a more recent application featuring space and satellite technology – involving the use of just a personal computer or a televi-sion screen with necessary broadcasting equipment and software. Communication satellites have been responsible for the telecommunication revolution in the 1980s when Subscriber Telephone Dialling (STD) became afford-able and therefore commonplace. The last 10 years have witnessed penetration of the internet across the country. Television broadcasting has been redefined and revolutionised. Edusat – launched in 2004 and interlinking some 30,000 classrooms with academic institutions, universities, even primary schools, according to ISRO, has brought with it a rich range of possi-bilities as far as distance education is con-cerned, with many unreachable areas now covered. Community Information Centres, built in expectation of bridging the digital divide in India’s least deve-loped regions, have come up in the remotest of places. The Indian disaster warning system, in-cluding that for tsunamis, uses both the INSAT and Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites, along with ground networks and capability, to power its early warning network as a collaborative effort of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) andISRO. IMD transmits information about impending tsunamis or cyclones toISRO satellites, which in turn relay the message to automatic hooters installed in remote coastal villages. With sevenIRS satellites in service, India has the largest family of remote sensing satellites in the world in the civi-lian domain. Panchromatic images with high resolution of within a metre are being beamed back by Cartosat-2, launched in January 2007. India’s INSAT system of 11 national communications satellites in orbit simultaneously is the largest constellation for any country in the entire Asia-Pacific region. But this technology has its problems, and uptake is one of them, with barriers such as power availability and connectivity, cul-ture and adaptation to digital media. It is well understood that Edusat, today, is clearly underutilised. Similarly, tele-medicine can always fail to make a mark unless all the nuts and bolts of its techno-logy are in place. When asked whether it is worth spending the Rs 2,000 crore for ISRO when more than 250 million people in India still live below the poverty line, Nair answers,“I can confidently stand in front of anybody and justify eve-ry paisa spent on the space programme and how the returns are being given to the country”. In K Kasturirangan’s (member, Rajya Sabha and former chairmanISRO) words, “It is not a question of whether we can af-ford to go to the moon. It’s whether we can afford to ignore it.”

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