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What after Chandrayaan-2? Plenty

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on July 13, 2019 Published on July 13, 2019

K Sivan, ISRO Chairman

The picture shows the engineering model of the rover of Chandrayaan-2, built by ISRO Satellite Centre, Bengaluru. File Photo   -  The Hindu

Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the Chairman of India’s space agency, ISRO, will just about have enough time to mop his forehead with a handkerchief after the agency’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, before getting busy again. He is not likely to have time to sit back and relax.

ISRO has been a busy entity in the last few years, but with a lot more missions on the drawing board, it is likely to only get busier in the coming years.

Here are some illustrative data-points: in the last three financial years—between April 2016 and May 2019—ISRO did 25 launches, of which only four were from foreign soil. However, in the next two years, ISRO will do 36 launches—17 in 2019-20 and 19 in 2020-21. There are to be 19 PSLV launches, 5 GSLV Mk-II, 7 GSLV Mk-III and 5 small satellite launch vehicles, according to a statement of the government in the Parliament earlier this month.

Aditya-L1 Mission

One of the missions of 2019-20 is Aditya-L1, a probe to study and solve a mystery about the sun. The sun’s corona—the gaseous outer layers that extend millions of kilometres into space—is far hotter than the centre of the sun. That’s a bit odd, right? After all, when you sit next to a fire it is warmer than you walk away—but the opposite happens at the sun. Why so, is a mystery. With Rs 378.53-crore Aditya-L1, ISRO will do its bit to solve it.

After Aditya-L1, things get even more interesting. There is a second visit to Mars on the cards, perhaps in 2022-23. Whether this will be a fly-around or a lander-rover put-down on the Martian surface is yet to be decided, but regardless, ISRO scientists have begun licking their pencil tips for a Mangalyaan-2.

And then, there is a mission to Venus in 2023, which will be a scientific mission. Which instruments it will carry is yet to be decided—an announcement was made in November 2018 calling for proposals for payloads, with January 3, 2019 as the deadline. The proposals are being examined by a selection committee.

And there will be a third go at the Moon, this time with capabilities to collect lunar rock and soil and bring them back home.

Sometime in between there will be the Rs 10,000-odd crore Gaganyaan mission, which will take at least one Indian to the space and bring him back home safely. The bring back part is the hardest, for all objects that enter the earth’s atmosphere from the space burn to dust due to the friction—which is why we are not constantly bombarded by extra-terrestrial objects. Any flaw in the re-entry will mean loss of the astronaut’s life—as it happened to Kalpana Chawla, the Indian woman astronaut, and her six colleagues, in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. ISRO has said that there would first be an unmanned Gaganyaan in 2020-21.

Alongside, ISRO is trying to build cheaper and bigger rockets. Work is on to develop a semi-cryogenic engine, fitted with which the GSLV Mk-III rocket would be able to lift up to 5 tonnes, a tonne more than it can today. Also under development is a ‘reusable launch vehicle’, like the US’ space shuttle.

Funding not a constraint

ISRO has never spoken of a funding constraint. A former top ISRO scientist once told Business Line that while more money would certainly help, no mission has suffered due to lack of funding.

Budgetary funding for space has steadily increased from Rs 2,822 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 5,985 crore in 2017-18. It then rose sharply to Rs 6,992 crore in 2018-19, which was later raised further in (the interim budget) to Rs 7,483 crore. The in the latest Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaram has given Rs 8,407 crore. These funds are for ‘space technology’, which covers satellite and launch vehicle related activities—the overall funding for the Department of Space is higher in each year. For example, it is Rs 12,473 crore for 2019-20.

Published on July 13, 2019
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