Bangalore: On 22 October, India joins Japan and China in an all-Asian race to explore the moon, even as the US, which put the first man on the moon in 1969, plans to repeat the feat by 2020.
That is the scheduled date for the launch of Chandrayaan-1, India’s first moon mission.
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“We’re exploring a region (moon) where we believe is a place humans may go (and live),” says G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
A human settlement on the moon is a few decades into the future, but for now, there is little known about the earth’s satellite and its atmosphere, mineral resources, evolution and — the Rs386 crore (the approximate cost of the mission) question — whether it has enough water to sustain a human colony.
Over the next two years, the 590kg spacecraft, fitted with cameras and sensors, will hover 100km over the moon to map its entire surface, particularly its polar regions, and send the chemical, soil and mineral characteristics to earth.
The spacecraft, fitted with 11 scientific instruments, including five from the US, Sweden, Japan, Germany and Bulgaria, will also explore and identify deposits of helium-3 or He-3, a clean nuclear fuel that can potentially solve all of the world’s energy problems.
The highly unstable He-3 is found in abundance on the moon.
India’s moon mission will follow that of Japan, which launched its Selene spacecraft in September 2007, and China, which launched Chang’e-1 in October 2007.
For Isro, which has till now only sent a satellite up to 36,000km over earth, its first scientific mission is also the toughest. The spacecraft needs to travel nearly 400,000km, and the mission will test the agency’s expertise in rocket technology, guidance and navigation of the spacecraft.
“This has to be achieved (with) the precision of few kilometres at the meeting point in the lunar orbit,” says Nair.
“Now the capability of instruments (are) much better... So we can do better work than what we did 30 years back,” adds M. Annadurai, project director of the Chandrayaan-1 mission.
Isro has built a deep space network, with a 32m antenna in Bangalore, to receive data from the spacecraft.
Data from the moon mission will also be received at the three deep space complexes of the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or Nasa, which are located in California, Spain and Australia, a Nasa spokesperson said in an email statement.
Meanwhile, preparations for the launch are on in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, the site from which India has launched several satellites.