Human spaceflight tests, deep ocean exploration: 2024 packed year for Indian science

The new year will also see the launch of the NISAR satellite, a $1.2 billion joint project by NASA and ISRO. It will be the most expensive earth imaging satellite ever made to study climate change.
Last Updated : 30 December 2023, 08:08 IST
Last Updated : 30 December 2023, 08:08 IST

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New Delhi: After the momentous landing on the moon's south pole, India has now set its sights on more challenging missions -- sending humans to space and getting samples from the lunar surface back to earth. Test flights for both the projects are scheduled in the new year.

For Indian scientists it is just not about the moon and beyond. Furthering deep ocean exploration, the country is scheduled to send aquanauts on board the "Samudrayaan", first to a depth of 500 metres in March, and later, achieve its targeted depth of up to 6,000 metres.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is set to begin the new year with the launch of XPoSat.

The X-Ray Polarimeter Satellite (XPoSat) will seek to unravel the mysteries of the sources of X-Rays and study the enigmatic world of black holes. The satellite is set for launch on January 1 on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota.

This would be followed by the insertion of the Aditya L-1 satellite at the Lagrange Point-1 on January 6 at 4 pm from where it will have an uninterrupted view of the sun, its object of study for the next five years.

The new year will also see the launch of the NISAR satellite, a $1.2 billion joint project by NASA and ISRO. It will be the most expensive earth imaging satellite ever made to study climate change.

The year gone by was an exciting one for science in India with the highpoint being the launch of the "Chandrayaan-3" mission on July 14 and its soft-landing near the south pole of the moon on August 23.

The Vikram lander module of the mission also delivered a rover "Pragyaan" on the lunar surface that roamed around for a few metres, clicked pictures of the moon and scooped lunar soil "regolith" to study its properties.

ISRO also sprung a surprise by making the Vikram lander hop and touch-down a little away from its position, a demonstration of the ability of the spacecraft to take off from the moon's surface. Another surprise was to bring the propulsion module, that was orbiting the moon, back to the earth's orbit, providing a sneak peek into the possibilities of bringing back moon rocks to the earth.

The new year will witness two unmanned missions under the "Gaganyaan" project to validate the human-rated launch vehicle and the orbital module in actual flight.

In addition, multiple sub-orbital missions using a test vehicle are planned to validate the Gaganyaan Crew Escape System under various abort conditions, as ISRO eyes for a 2025 time slot to send an Indian to space in an Indian capsule.

The space agency, through its commercial arm NewSpace India Limited, also put 72 satellites of OneWeb, the Bharti Enterprises-backed satellite internet provider, into low-earth orbit on two separate missions of Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM-3), which was used for commercial launches for the first time.

The first mission to put 36 satellites in orbit was on October 23, 2022, and followed up by a similar mission on March 26.

The private space sector too is eyeing its first commercial launch in 2024 with Skyroot Aerospace and Agnikul Cosmos getting ready their home-built launch vehicle to put small satellites in low earth orbits.

"For the launch of Vikram-1, we are targeting the first half of 2024. The year 2024 will be a milestone year for us as we leap ahead to orbital launch capabilities which is critical for commercialisation of our launch services," Skyroot Aerospace co-founder Pawan Kumar Chandana told PTI.

Agnikul Cosmos, the IIT-Madras incubated space start-up, is also set to carry out a test flight of its 3D-printed "Agnibaan" rocket in the new year.

Bengaluru-based Pixxel, which has made a name for itself in hyper-spectral imaging satellites, has plans to put in place a constellation of 24 satellites by 2025. The first six Fireflies satellites are scheduled for launch in 2024 and 18 in 2025.

The government also approved proposals for India's participation in big science projects such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) at a cost of Rs 2,600 crore and the Indo-US collaborative Fermilab initiative (Rs 900 crore).

The LIGO project consists of two large interferometers, each about 4-km long, arranged in an 'L' shape that causes two light waves to intersect each other, resulting in an interference pattern.

The L-shaped arrangement behaves like a high-precision antenna that detects gravitational waves, which are extremely faint.

The project, being built at Hingoli in Maharashtra, will complement two LIGO setups in Louisiana and Washington.

The government also approved the National Quantum Mission (NQM) with a target to scale-up scientific and industrial research and development for quantum technologies, at an estimated cost of over Rs 6,000 crore in the next eight years.

India also announced plans to build another research station "Maitri-II" in Antarctica, where it operates a permanent research facility "Bharati".

The new "Maitri-II" research station, about 6,000 km away from "Bharati", is expected to start operations in 2029.

India also flagged off its maiden winter expedition to the Arctic as it aims to maintain round-the-year presence at the Himadri research station in the Svalbard region of Norway.

The year gone by also witnessed two sudden developments -- shifting of Kiren Rijiju from the Law Ministry to Earth Sciences and the abrupt resignation of Department of Science and Technology Secretary Srivari Chandrasekhar.

In 2023, the Department of Science and Technology also distance itself from the 109th edition of the Indian Science Congress organised by the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) which dragged the government to court alleging interference in functioning.

As a result, the Indian Science Congress, which is usually inaugurated by the prime minister on January 3 every year, has been put on hold.

Published 30 December 2023, 08:08 IST

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