Bangalore: India’s maiden moon probe is set to meet a premature end, but funds for Chandrayaan-2 won’t run dry, say space experts and scientists connected to the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
Chandrayaan’s biggest success, say experts, was in being able to make it to the moon’s orbit in its very first attempt. “That was the biggest selling point of the mission,” said a senior scientist in the government, who is an adviser to Isro for its Chandrayaan mission. “For a space mission, Rs400 crore is peanuts compared with a whole lot of other government programmes.”
That apart, Chandrayaan was supposed to capture images from a close 100km range. That would have meant better images and more detailed maps of the moon, which would have made things a little easier for the rover, a robotic vehicle that is the highlight of the forthcoming Chandrayaan-2 mission. The moon has long periods of darkness, so it’s not everyday that a probe can capture clear, usable pictures. “The plan was that taking pictures for a year-and-a-half at this range would have got some extremely detailed, valuable maps that could have been useful for the rover. That’s a disappointment, but far, far from a failure,” said the scientist. “Now, we’re only going to be getting as good pictures as the Japanese moon probe.”
Japan launched its Selene spacecraft to the moon in September 2007, followed by China’s Chang’e-2 and Chandrayaan, but the Indian spacecraft had more instruments and the mission cost was the lowest among all the nations. China spent nearly $500 million (Rs2,435 crore today) on its maiden mission.
India spent Rs380 crore on the mission, less than the cost of what US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) offered Isro for a bare-bones structure of the spacecraft.
Scientists say managing the heat that instruments are exposed to within the temperamental gravity of the moon’s orbit is a technical challenge. “Look back at all planetary expeditions and you’ll find a heat management issue in 80% of them,” he said.
Another expert, who has retired from Isro but remains a consultant on Chandrayaan-1, said the major reason the mission cost less than other comparable global missions was because of manpower costs. “Isro’s scientists work at a fraction of the pay compared with Nasa’s experts. Otherwise, in the materials used, the technology incorporated, there was no compromise.”
Until recently, other than the US and the erstwhile USSR, few countries ventured into space. “Everything was top secret. Now nobody shares any technology unless they have mastered a better one,” said the scientist. “So, there’s hardly any spending on royalty and technology transfer.”
India’s moon trip comes at a time when there is a renaissance in lunar exploration by Russia, the US, and emerging Asian nations such Japan and China on the lookout for mineral resources as well as a human settlement base for planetary explorations.
Raghu Krishnan in Bangalore contributed to this story.