A day after, as we take a look at Chandrayaan-2, India’s moon mission, there are several aspects that ought to be considered. Malfunctioning of one or more thrusters, faults in the orientation path or any other element in the system, like a component or a valve, or even a software issue could be the reason for losing contact with the lander. And if so, why did it happen? Till we are able to identify the exact cause, the questions will keep coming.
One look at the mission map and you will realise that as per the plan, the lander should have taken a parabolic path to land. But it took a vertical turn.With just 2.1km remaining, it dropped directly. Had it followed the same path with more speed, it would have posed another problem. But since it diverted from the path and the data is now lost, this could probably signify a crash landing. I personally feel it is a crash landing. They should now look at other parameters to identify why it happened. It may be due to malfunctioning of one of the thrusters or due to an orientation effort.
We will surely be able to identify what went wrong. There are computer programmes based on the sensors. There is an automatic landing sequence. We need to verify whether firing occurred at the predetermined time. Once we take the printout of all parameters, based on that it can be confirmed whether it fired or not, or whether there was a malfunction too. A proper analysis will help to zero in on the exact cause.
However, in my opinion, you cannot quantify the success rate of the mission in terms of percentage. If you compare, there was no soft landing in Chandrayaan-1 either. But this one was scheduled for a soft landing. That is what makes it crucial. Since there was no soft landing, we would now not be able to analyse the functioning of the rover or its life and the solar power involved.
But there is no need to term the mission a failure. We have achieved everything other than the soft landing. The orbiter is still there. There are still other functions to be carried out.According to me, there is no need for a Chandrayaan-3. Each Chandrayaan mission costs huge amounts of money. If you are involved in the satellite business, you need to look at the funding aspect too, as this mission is aimed at long-term gains. So before we consider another mission, we need to first find out the exact reason why Chandrayaan-2 could not soft-land. If that is identified accurately, we would then know what exact remedial measures need to be undertaken to rectify the same.
Looking at the larger perspective, I think India should come up with a definite space programme with a three-pronged approach. It is time India took the lead to form a consortium—Asian Space Agency—on the lines of the European Space Agency (ESA).
A consortium of countries in the region, including India, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Maldives and all Gulf countries should be formulated. India should then assume the lead role. This will sort out one of the biggest problems, i.e. funding. We should similarly decide what would be the end goal of the project. Is it carrying four tonnes to the orbit? We have already achieved that. Or is it landing men on the moon? Or do we want to put up an infrastructure facility there? Gaganyaan can be one of the sub-projects of putting men on the moon.
We have a major PSLV launch pad at Sriharikota. We can create a launch pad for other countries to operate their missions from here. Since we are close to the equator, we have an advantage. There will be about 40-50 per cent gain in the payload being carried. We can operate missions from here for other countries.
India has been in the space business for long. After 56 long years, we have learnt several things, like how to handle a propellant, movement of rockets etc. We have enormous spaces available. India should try to cash in on these factors. However, unfortunately, we still continue to exist in a shell. If we actually open up our resources, our country would be able to generate more revenue, which can then be used for deep space missions. This should be taken up through diplomatic channels. It is like offering our service to other countries, who could use our land to launch, but still can maintain control over their satellites.
India should also focus on developing its domestic space industry. While other countries, like the USA, have scores of private space companies, how many do we have here? Even in China there are at least 100 private companies related to space. We should hence do everything to promote our space industries. We have a tendency to try and handle everything ourselves. India should now opt for a change of this old-world mindset and include our domestic industries to reduce cost.
To ensure the success of the Gaganyaan mission, we need to make preparations related to human health. But we haven’t done anything till now on that front. We have signed a Russian contract in this regard, but I am not at all happy with the progress made. Technological collaboration is what we need to think about.
We have excellent doctors in India. They should be trained to deal with matters related to low gravity, zero gravity, confinement, psychological conditions and physical reaction to space conditions, space food etc. But these are yet to be undertaken. We should start working on these factors right away.
(As told to Anil S)