Ambitious ISRO Hitching Its Wagon to the Sun - The New Indian Express

Ambitious ISRO Hitching Its Wagon to the Sun

Published: 23rd December 2013 08:00 AM

Last Updated: 23rd December 2013 01:06 PM

Basking in the glory of the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission, India has put its maiden mission to the sun titled Aditya-1 on a more ambitious track. Scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have decided to upgrade the satellite from being a single payload, designed to study the sun’s outer layer, to now include five payloads that would study the sun more closely to see how it impacts the earth.

The solar mission would put India in the elite club that currently has only two members-the Europe Space Agency and USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Icing on the cake would be that earlier the solar mission was a collaborative effort between the European and US agencies, while the Indian mission would be an individual effort -- ISRO with a shoestring budget is matching its well endowed counterparts.

The decision to upgrade the solar mission was taken at a meeting of solar scientists from across the country recently at the ISRO headquarters in Bangalore. The meeting to chart out the science objectives and technical developments of the solar mission took place after the successful Mars mission boosted ISRO’s confidence. The solar mission is scheduled to take place in 2017-18.

“It was decided in the meeting that we need to study the sun in a better way and do something different from other countries. As of now five payloads have been cleared,” said a top official in the Department of Space.  

Earlier, Aditya-1 was only supposed to study the fiery solar corona, the sun’s outermost region. Now it will be equipped with an ultraviolet imager telescope to observe the whole solar disc so that the scientists can know things happening on the sun’s surface like solar storms, which impact atmosphere on the earth.

“It was also to have a high energy x-ray imager to scan smaller region of the solar disc to study flares that generate solar storms,” said a solar physicist, who attended the meeting and will be looking at the instrument development work.

Other instruments include a wind particle detector to sample the solar winds, soft x-ray spectrometer and variable emission coronagraph.

“The instruments for Aditya are very tough to be developed and need to be tested very thoroughly before we finalise the mission,” the official said.

The cost of the mission is not yet finalised as it is in a project mode.

“The instruments have just been finalised and are in the development phase. Once we know we can develop everything then we can go to the Space Commission and get a formal approval,” said another scientist.

Scientists feel development of instruments will cost roughly around `100 crore but most money would be spent on sending a satellite to the sun which is about 93 million miles away from the earth. It takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach the earth.

India’s ambitious `450-crore space mission to Mars blasted off on November 5. The 1,350-kg craft carried five compact instruments, which will study the morphology, minerology and the Martian atmosphere.

Mars is about 35 million miles away from the earth and the orbiter craft is scheduled to enter orbit at Mars in September 2014.

Aditya-1 has now been configured as a L1 mission, which means the spacecraft will be placed at a point between the sun and earth where it will remain stable due to earth’s gravitational pull. All other satellites orbit the earth but Aditya will be positioned ahead of earth. 

“L1 is considered a good position to monitor the sun since the constant stream of particles from the sun, the solar wind, reaches L1 about an hour before reaching the earth. SOHO, the European Space Agency/NASA solar watchdog, is positioned there,” the scientist said.

Indian scientists are interested in solar physics as nothing much is known about it.

“There are a lot of activities happening on the sun’s surface which impacts space weather, endangering satellites and even disrupting power transmission on earth. This made it necessary to study the largest object in our solar system,” said the official of the Department of Space.

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