India launch debut moon mission in collaboration with NASA and ESA

by Chris Bergin

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched their Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft on their debut mission to the moon. A Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL-C11) lifted-off from Sriharikota, India early on Wednesday, local time.

The PSLV-C11 is an uprated version of ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle standard configuration. Weighing 316 tonnes at lift-off, the vehicle uses larger strap-on motors (PSOM-XL) to achieve higher payload capability.

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Since 1993, the vehicle has achieved twelve successful launches carrying satellites to Sun Synchronous, Low Earth and Geosynchronous Transfer Orbits, launching 29 satellites in total.

The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, designed and developed PSLV-C11, which is 44.4 metres tall and has four stages using solid and liquid propulsion systems. The first stage, carrying 138 tonne of propellant, is one of the largest solid propellant boosters in the world.

Six solid propellant strap-on motors (PSOM-XL), each carrying twelve tonne of solid propellant, are strapped on to the first stage. The second stage carries 41.5 tonne of liquid propellant. The third stage uses 7.6 tonne of solid propellant and the fourth has a twin engine configuration with 2.5 tonne of liquid propellant.

Chandrayaan-1 will carry out high-resolution remote sensing of the Moon on a global scale. It will study lunar surface composition, produce a 3D map of the Moon’s surface and drop an impact probe for added surface studies.

Following launch, Chandrayaan-1 will travel for about five and a half days to the Moon. The final operational orbit (polar, circular at 100-km altitude) will be reached about two weeks later.

Two NASA instruments to map the lunar surface will launch on Chandrayaan-1, which consist of the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which will assess mineral resources, and the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar, or Mini-SAR, which will map the polar regions and look for ice deposits.

Data from the two instruments will contribute to NASA’s increased understanding of the lunar environment ahead of its project return to the moon via Orion in 2019.

“The opportunity to fly NASA instruments on Chandrayaan-1 undoubtedly will lead to important scientific discoveries,” noted NASA administrator Michael Griffin. “This exciting collaboration represents an important next step in what we hope to be a long and mutually beneficial relationship with India in future civil space exploration.”

In addition to the two science instruments, NASA will provide space communications support to Chandrayaan-1 during its two-year lunar mission.

The spacecraft also will carry four instruments and a small lunar impactor provided by ISRO, and several instruments from the Europe Space Agency (ESA).

This cooperation follows on from the first venture between India and Europe, which took place in the 1980s. In 1981, Europe’s Ariane 3 rocket launched into space India’s first geostationary satellite Apple.

Riding onboard, Europe’s Compact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (CIXS) will carry out high-quality, low-energy (soft) X-ray spectroscopic mapping of the Moon. The Infrared Spectrometer, known as SIR-2, will observe the chemical composition of the Moon’s crust and mantle.

Both of these instruments were flown on SMART-1 and have been upgraded and rebuilt for Chandrayaan-1. They will continue the work on surface composition started by the original instruments.

The third European contribution is the Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyser (SARA). Derived from the ASPERA (energetic neutral atoms analyser) instruments, flown on Mars Express and Venus Express, it will be the first lunar experiment dedicated to direct studies of the interaction between electrically charged particles and the surface of the Moon.

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