Bangalore: India plans to launch its first lunar space probe, with two payloads from the US, in April 2008 and is studying the possibility of sending a man into space.
“The design reviews are over. We are building and testing about six instruments which are to go on board the mission,” Madhavan Nair, chairman of the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (Isro), said on Monday. “The window for the launch will open in April. The exact date will depend on the position of the moon and other parameters.”
Europe’s first spacecraft to the moon, SMART-1, reached the lunar surface on 3 September 2006, AFP had reported. China will launch a moon mission later this year, Xinhua reported on 21 May. Japan is also planning a lunar probe.
“There’s global interest in exploring the moon,” said Roddam Narasimha, professor emeritus at the research body National Institute of Advanced Studies. “In the last few years, Isro has built a robust launch capability. They can now afford to think of a lunar mission without looking at how much money is being spent.”
India’s unmanned Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe will map the moon’s surface for chemicals and minerals using a spectrometer and terrain-mapping cameras during its two-year mission, Nair said. The Rs390 crore probe will land an “impacter” onto the moon and collect data.
The 11 payloads on the spacecraft will include one miniature radar and a mineral mapper from the US, one from the European Space Agency and another from Bulgaria, Nair said.
“We will be looking for Helium 3 and traces of water on the lunar surface,” Nair said. “In a year’s time, we will submit to the government a report on whether a manned space mission is needed. It will cost about Rs10,000 crore.”
India is eyeing the global commercial satellite launch market dominated by the US, Russia and Europe. In 2009, it will develop a rocket, the GSLV-Mk III, capable of carrying satellites as heavy as four tonnes, Nair said.
In April, an Indian rocket placed an Italian satellite in orbit, marking the space agency’s first commercial launch. “This was one of the very successful missions against high competition from other players. The result is that the international community is very appreciative of our launch capability,” Nair said. “Slowly we hope to enter into the launch of other satellites on a commercial basis.”
The cost of launching a satellite is $20,000 (Rs8 lakh) a kg on the international market, while the Indian agency can do it for $15,000, Nair said.
Political factors also determine who gets contracts in the commercial launch industry, with the US government putting in place a law that requires special permission for their satellites to be launched from other countries, Nair said. “That’s one of the constraints we are facing at the moment,” Nair said.