ISRO’s Upcoming Interplanetary Missions To Mars, Venus, The Sun After Chandrayaan 2

There is an impressive lineup of interesting projects on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s to-do list in the coming future. The ongoing Chandrayaan 2 mission and the upcoming Gaganyaan manned mission envisioned for 2022 are two of the better-known big missions, but far from the only ones underway. The Indian space agency is correspondingly working on a total of seven interplanetary missions over the coming decade covering destinations such as Mars, the Moon, Venus, the Sun’s corona and space.

2019-2020: Aditya L1 mission

 The Aditya-L1 mission is ISRO’s first planned probe to observe the Sun’s corona and its atmosphere. The approved projects are expected to launch during 2019–2020 timeframe on a PSLV rocket from Sriharikota. Aditya-L1 will be equipped with experiments that could provide observations of Sun’s Photosphere (soft and hard X-ray), Chromosphere (UV) and the corona (Visible and NIR). The corona is the outer layer of the Sun extending to thousands of km above the visible disc of the photosphere around it. Interestingly, the corona has temperatures over a million-degree Kelvin much higher than the surface of the Sun measuring 6000 degrees Kelvin. The mystery of how the corona gets heated to such high temperatures is still unanswered. NASA’s Parker probe is presently exploring this sector. ISRO’s Aditya L-1 will soon join the study of this astrophysical mystery.

December 2021-January 2022: Gaganyaan Mission

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India will attempt to send astronauts to space on a spacecraft called the ‘Gaganyaan’ by 2022 in his 2018 Independence Day address. He added that the mission will add India to the elite list as the fourth nation in the world to accomplish the feat if successful. With an estimated cost of Rs 10,000 crore, the Gaganyaan mission is India’s biggest space mission till now.

Crew Module along with the escape capsule on display at the Bangalore Space Expo in 2018. Image courtesy: ISRO/Twitter

The Gaganyaan’s crew module will house astronauts and its life support systems to keep them alive in space. The spacecraft’s environmental-control systems have already been developed and are presently being tested at a brand-new facility opened by ISRO for human spaceflight missions. The space agency announced this ambitious mission as their “highest priority” in the coming days with plans to conduct the first unmanned tests in December 2020  with the second round in July 2021. If these trials are successful, the manned mission will be launched as planned in December 2021.

2022-2023: Mangalyaan-2 (Mars Orbiter Mission-2)

After the stupendous success of its Mangalyaan1 mission, ISRO has planned India’s second mission to Mars, the Mars Orbiter-2, between 2022 and 2023. The Mangalyaan-2 orbiter is slated to deploy aerobraking to lower its initial apoapsis and enter into an orbit more suitable for observations.

Partial disc of Mars captured by Mangalyaan-1’s onboard camera. Image courtesy: ISRO

In a sign of encouragement, the Indian government allocated the funds for the MOM-2 mission in its 2017 budget proposal.

Late 2020s: Chandrayaan-3 Mission

ISRO Chairman K Sivan has already announced that the third mission in the impressive Chandrayaan series will also be carried out in the coming decade as the program was always intended as a multi-mission space run.

Sivan said in an interview to Current Science, “The Moon is a good candidate as a staging point for carrying out our deep space human spaceflight missions, and Chandrayaan-2 will assess the suitability of the Moon for such activities”.

He added that ISRO will soon initiate a space robotics program to explore the possibility of an Indian robot on the Moon. With the first mission in the program containing an Orbiter and the second featuring a soft lander and rover, exciting developments are in store of India’s third lunar mission.

 2023-2025: Shukrayaan Mission to Venus

 Our neighboring planet Venus is every so often described as Earth’s ‘twin sister’ due to its size, density, composition, and gravity. Some theories propose that both planets share a common origin and formed at the same time from the same condensing mix of gas and dust around 4.5 billion years ago. As Venus is 30 % closer to the Sun than our planet, it has a much higher exposure to solar radiation, effects of solar flares and other solar phenomena, and is an object of interest for ISRO to study.

ISRO proposes to send an orbiter mission to observe the dense, hot atmosphere of Venus, which is made up primarily of carbon dioxide and the planet’s surface using a probe. The satellite configuration and payloads on Shukrayaan-1 are so far not finalized, but according to an ISRO release the science objectives behind the design of the spacecraft is the “super-rotation” of the Venusian atmosphere and how it interacts with solar radiation and solar wind.

Late 2020s: EXPOSat Planetary exploration

 The EXPOSat mission seems to be a follow-up to the AstroSAT mission, ISRO’s multi-wavelength X-ray astronomy observatory studying X-ray sources in the universe. After the triumph of AstroSAT, the EXPOSat mission will further explore X-rays in the universe particularly the polarization of bright X-ray sources in our universe.

Objects such as neutron stars, supernova remnants, pulsars and regions around black holes could give scientists information about the electromagnetic nature of space radiation. Better knowledge about space radiation could be useful in protecting spacecraft and astronauts in the future and also pave the way for future space exploration technology.

 2023: India’s Space Station

 Another exciting plan in the pipeline is a space station that will be built by India. The present International Space Station is the only functioning one and is slated to wind up by 2028. The proposed station by ISRO will weigh 15-20 tons with the capability to host people for 15-20 days. It will be used to conduct microgravity tests, K Sivan told Business Standard.

According to Sivan, the space station is a logical extension of the RS 10,000 crore Gaganyaan mission that aims to send human beings to space in 2022.

Ajay Lele, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses said that the timeline for the mission is five to seven years which should be a challenge but ISRO has been developing the necessary technologies like the space docking technology that should keep it on track.

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