Isro: calibrated ambition

The Rover of the Chandrayaan-2 moon mission. DH Photo

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has announced a package of programmes which, while being continuations of earlier space ventures, will also be new achievements and chart out new directions for it in outer space. It starts with Chandrayaan-2, the second mission to the moon, scheduled for launch next month, the first indigenous manned space flight by 2022, and includes building an Indian space station. Isro is a rare beacon of scientific and technological ambition and achievement in the country which cannot boast of too many other institutions that can match its performance. Decades of dedicated work, including successes and failures, have primed it for a bigger role and greater things, and the new plans vouchsafe for that. Isro’s work has been an essential element in the country’s progress and development in many vital areas like telecommunications, agriculture, mining, meteorology and defence. It has also raised the country’s international profile as a major space-faring nation with achievements that only a few other countries like the US, Russia and China can boast of. 

Isro plans to build its space station in seven years and launch it in 2030. It will be a major project and will mark the presence and arrival of India in space like no other venture till date. NASA’s International Space Station will be retired by 2025. A station which China is building now and the planned Indian station will be the only functional stations after that. Isro has been conducting space docking experiments and planning other activities to be done when it has its own space station. The space agenda is very crowded now. The Gaganyaan project plans to send three Indians into space by 2022. A solar mission, Aditya L1, has been planned for 2020 to study the sun’s corona, and a Venus mission is in the works to study the inner solar system. 

While these are plans for the coming years, the most immediate item on the agenda is Chandrayaan-2, which will be launched on July 15. It will include an orbiter, a lander and a rover which will land near the lunar south pole. Chandrayaan-2 was delayed because the Russian space agency which was to supply the lander withdrew from the agreement as its lander developed technical problems. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Isro, as in similar situations in the past, developed and built its own lander. While Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 detected water on the moon, the second mission will conduct a number of experiments to unravel the deeper mysteries of the moon. The whole expedition is much more challenging than Chandrayaan-1, but Isro has been there before. 

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