Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NASA & ISRO ink space deal

NASA & ISRO(Indian Space Research Organisation) are to ink new MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) today for India's maiden Lunar mission Chandrayan which is to be launched in 2008.

NASA Chief Dr Michael Griffin who is on a visit to India since the last high profile NASA visit by NASA scientist Fletcher who visited India in 1972-1973.

Fletcher was there during the launch of Aryabhata and the SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) programme that was to beam educational programmes to 2,400 villages through the American satellite ATS-6.

Indian space scientist U R Rao recalls, "The first time Fletcher came, he was sceptical of our satellite programme after looking at our sheds. The second time around he was convinced we would take off. He was here to oversee implementation of ground conditions for the use of the American satellite that was to beam educational programmes across India."

Indo-American cooperation had already begun in the 1960s with a collaboration for the Thumba rocket. The 1970s collaboration was the SITE experiment, and in the 1980s it further intensified with the procurement of four satellites in the INSAT class from the US and launch of three of them by US rocket-launchers.

This time around during the Bush visit, India and the US decided to expand cooperation in civil space, including space exploration and satellite navigation.

Under the deal NASA will provide 2 payloads --Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (miniSAR) developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory and Moon Mineralogy Mapper operating in 0.7-3 micrometre band(M3 pronounced m-cube) an imaging spectrometer built by Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While the miniSAR will be used to map lunar polar ice, the moon mineralogy mapper will identify the surface mineral /chemical composition of the moon's surface.

This was decided on during the Bush visit to India in March.

The Chandrayan satellite would have payloads from Bulgaria and European Space Agency (ESA) too.

Three developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and one from the Bulgarian Space Laboratory.

The Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyzer (SARA) from ESA will map composition using low energy neutral atoms sputtered from the surface, while near-infrared spectrometer (SIR-2) will also map the mineral composition using an infrared grating spectrometer.

Bulgaria will send a Radiation Dose Monitor aboard Chandrayaan-I to map the radiation environment around the moon.

The 500 kg satellite (lift off weight 1304 kg) would have 5 Indian payloads which would take up chemical mapping of the entire lunar surface, besides helping to prepare a three dimensional atlas of regions of scientific interest.

The payloads include a Moon Impact probe for future landing missions, a high energy x-ray spectrometer, a lunar laser ranging instrument with a height resolution of five metres, a terrain mapping camera with stereo imaging capability and a five metre spatial resolution and a hyper spectral imager operating in 0.4-0.95 micrometre band with a special resolution of 15 manometre, a spatial resolution of 80 metre, sources said.

Among the Indian payloads, Terrain Mapping Camera will be used to produce a high-resolution map of the Moon, while the Hyper Spectral Imager will perform mineralogical mapping in the 400-900 nm band with a spectral resolution of 15 nm and a spatial resolution of 80 m.

The Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI) will determine the surface topography and the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer will be used to study the X-rays emanating from the lunar surface.

Moon Impact probe (MIP) developed by ISRO is a small satellite that will be ejected once it reaches 100km orbit around moon, to impact on the moon.

MIP carries three more instruments namely, a high resolution mass spectrometer, an S-Band altimeter and a Video camera, which would study the lunar surface as it crashes onto the moon.

It will give NASA a first-hand view of the advancements in India’s space programme, particularly its successful commercial forays in the international space market — ISRO plans to corner between 5-10 per cent of the global space market.

To be launched by the proven Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that had eight consecutive launches till May last year from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, the Satellite would initially orbit the moon at a polar height of 200 km and later be guided to a 100 km lunar orbit. It would have a mission life of two years.

The Rs 386 crore maiden planetary exploration project of India was approved by the Government in September 2003. Besides the satellite, the project also envisaged setting up of a Deep Space Network to be located near Bangalore with a 32 m diameter x/s band antenna.

Griffin, will also visit Indian Space Research Organisation headquarters in Bangalore, where the MoUs would be signed with ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair.

However, a more ambitious project between the two countries on a space launch agreement is still a distance away — this agreement would permit India to launch third country satellites with US components and technology in them. While the two countries have worked out the details of a technology safeguards agreement, which protects US technology from proliferation, a more mundane issue — a commercial launch agreement — is still out of reach.

Meanwhile, India will push for removal of sanctions on the remaining ISRO entities that remain under US curbs. This agreement is tied up in the labyrinths of American bureaucracy, particularly the USTR, which wants a deal outside the WTO, something India is not particularly comfortable with. Besides, the agreement is something the US had with only a couple of closed economies of the world like Ukraine, and even with them the US had allowed these commercial agreements to lapse.

The US had asked for an Indian astronaut on a US mission — which formed a part of the July 18 joint statement. But ISRO determined that it would entail a cost for India which it did not want to pay for — instead wanted to concentrate on unmanned missions.

As space scientist U R Rao puts it, "We are after all flying two US instruments on board free of cost. The data generated will be of great value to the US. Griffin's visit is nothing but a sign of the immense confidence NASA has on Indian capabilities."

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