Prelims: Science and Technology,
Mains: GS III- Achievements of Indians in Science & Technology; Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology.
- Humans are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push further. The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries.
- Human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system.
- Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help to foster a peaceful connection with other nations.
|Significance of space missions|
Earth Observation Applications:
- Earth Observation Satellites of ISRO has been successfully able to establish many operational applications in the country.
- It ensures that people are continuously benefitted from space inputs for sustainable development and good governance.
- Some of the important missions of ISRO, in terms of IRS series of satellites, that has enabled unique applications of space-based imaging are, Cartosat-1 & 2, Resources at-1 & 2, Oceans-1 & 2, Risat-1, Megha-Tropiques, SARAL, Scatsat, INSAT series, and host of other satellites.
Disaster management support:
- In order to better understand the risks due to disasters like floods, landslides, cyclones, forest fires, earthquakes, drought etc, it is necessary to integrate satellite and field-based observations and to work towards risk reduction principles.
- Disaster Management Support (DMS) Programme, comprehensively addresses various aspects of natural disasters in the country, using space-based inputs.
- ISRO is actively involved with various other countries with regard to disaster management, through international frameworks, such as International Charter ‘Space & Major Disasters’, Sentinel Asia, UNESCAP and so on.
- The technology has matured substantially over the past three decades and is being used on a commercial basis for a large number of applications.
- Important initiatives pursued by ISRO towards societal development include Tele-education, Tele-medicine, Village Resource Centre (VRC) and Disaster Management System (DMS) Programmes. The potential of space technology for applications of national development is enormous.
|Important Space Missions|
NASA Discovery Program
- Discovery is a series of small planetary missions selected and funded by NASA to address key science questions about the solar system and to unlock the mysteries of our solar system.
- It began in 1992 and the program represented a breakthrough in the way NASA explores space.
- The purpose is to deepen human understanding of the solar system by exploring the planets, their moons, and small bodies such as comets and asteroids.
- Discovery missions have achieved ground-breaking science, each taking a unique approach to space exploration, doing what's never been done before, and driving new technology innovations that may also improve life on Earth.
- Eg., InSight, Lucy, Psyche
NASA New Frontiers
- Missions in NASA's New Frontiers Program tackle specific solar system exploration goals identified as top priorities by the planetary science community.
- The strategy is to explore the solar system with medium-class spacecraft missions that conduct high science-return investigations that add to our understanding of the solar system.
- New Frontiers builds on the innovative approaches used in NASA's Discovery Program but provides a mechanism for identifying and selecting strategic missions that cannot be accomplished within the cost and time constraints of Discovery.
- Eg. Juno, New Horizons, Osiris-Rex
NASA Solar System Exploration Program
- The Solar System Exploration Program consists of large, strategic missions that seek to advance high priority science objectives set forth by the planetary science community.
- Missions within the program investigate a synergistic array of science objectives with more depth and breadth than is possible for smaller, tightly focused missions in the Discovery and New Frontiers programs.
- E.g., DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) & JUICE
NASA Explorers Program
- The mission of the Explorers Program is to provide frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space, utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas.
- The program seeks to enhance public awareness of, and appreciation for, space science and to incorporate educational and public outreach activities as integral parts of space science investigations.
- Eg. ICON, GUSTO etc
Hubble Space Telescope
- Deployed in 1990, it observes universe at ultraviolet, visual and near-infrared wavelength.
- Hubble has expanded our understanding of star birth, star death and galaxy evolution and has helped move black holes from scientific theory to fact.
- It has discovered the largest known population of brown dwarfs sprinkled among newborn stars in the Orion Nebula.
- It beamed back images documenting the birth of a giant storm on Neptune, a finding that may reveal insights on the inner workings of the poorly-understood ice giant planets.
- Like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, Neptune’s Great Dark Spots are storms that form from areas of high atmospheric pressure. In contrast, storms on Earth form around areas of low pressure.
- These dark spots of Neptune were first identified by Voyager 2 in 1989.
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
- Second of NASA’s Great Observatories deployed in 1991.
- It collected data on most violent physical processes in the Universe, characterised by their extremely high energies.
- It has deorbited and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in 2000.
Chandra X-ray Observatory
- Deployed in 1999, this observatory is observing such objects as black holes, quasars, and high-temperature gases through the x-ray portion of the EM spectrum.
- Named after Nobel-prize winning Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.
Spitzer Space Telescope
- It fills in an important gap in wavelength coverage not available from the ground—the thermal infrared.
- Launched in 2003, it obtains images and spectra by detecting the infrared energy or heat radiated by objects in space between wavelengths of 3 and 180 microns
- Most of this radiation is blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere and cannot be observed from the ground.
- Infrared also brings us information about the cooler objects in space, such as smaller stars which are too dim to be detected by their visible light, extrasolar planets, and giant molecular clouds. Also, many molecules in space, including organic molecules, have their unique signatures in the infrared.
- Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but some wavelengths of infrared can pass through clouds of gas and dust where visible light cannot.
- So scientists use infrared observations to view newborn stars and still-forming “protostars,” swaddled in the clouds of gas and dust from which they formed
- NASA has decommissioned Spitzer telescope in 2020.
- Lasting more than twice as long as the primary mission, revealed the presence of seven rocky planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star.
- Part of NASA’s Discovery Program, it is a mission to the two most massive bodies in the main asteroid belt — Vesta and Ceres.
- Vesta is rocky, while dwarf planet Ceres is icy.
- Dawn is currently in its second extended mission at Ceres, in an elliptical orbit.
NASA James Webb Space Telescope
- It will be exploring the universe using the infrared light, from the celestial bodies that are in our solar system to the old and distant galaxies.
- It is considered as the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
- It will be used to study Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
- Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport.
- It is a Mars lander and the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle and core.
- It will delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets by measuring planet’s vital signs: its ‘pulse’ (seismology), ‘temperature’ (heat flow) and ‘reflexes’ (precision tracking)
- It will answer key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system- Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars- more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets.
- Formation & Evolution of terrestrial planets.
- Tectonic Activity and meteorite impact rate on Mars.
- The rocket that launched InSight also launched a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini spacecraft called Mars Cube One or Marco.
- These are briefcase-sized CubeSats flew on their own path to Mars behind InSight
- Their goal was to test new miniaturised deep space communication equipment.
- Mars trembles more often than expected, but also more mildly.
- It doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles.
- Billions of years ago, Mars had a magnetic field. Although it is no longer present, it left behind what NASA describes as “ghosts” – magnetised rocks that are now between 61 m to several km below ground.
- InSight is equipped with a magnetometer, which has detected magnetic signals
- Weather sensors have detected thousands of passing whirlwinds, which are called dust devils when they pick up grit and become visible.
- The site has more whirlwinds than any other place where a landing has been made on Mars while carrying weather sensors. InSight’s cameras have yet to see dust devils.
- InSight has two radios. The X-band radio, also known as the Rotation and Interior Structure.
- Experiment (RISE), can eventually reveal whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid. A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would.
NASA Curiosity Rover
- The car-size Curiosity rover is the centrepiece of NASA which landed in the Gale Crater
- As of now, Curiosity is NASA’s only active Mars rover.
- Curiosity is exploring the Gale Crater, the Mars 2020 will explore the Jezoro Crater– the site of an ancient delta.
- Assess whether the Red Planet is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.
- It has found the largest amount of methane ever measured during its mission on Mars.
- It is important because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth, but methane can also be created through interactions between rocks and water.
- Oxygen behaves in a mysterious way on Mars. NASA found that Oxygen levels throughout spring and summer rose by as much as 30%.
- 95 per cent of the Martian atmosphere is carbon dioxide by volume. The rest of the gases are 2.6 per cent molecular nitrogen, 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2), and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO). Oxygen, which is needed to breathe by most beings on Earth is barely present on Mars.
Mars 2020 Rover (Perseverance)
- The six-wheeled robotic explorer.
- Its job is to collect samples from Mars for eventual return to Earth.
- Part of its mission is to look for signs of past microbial life and will also study the planet’s climate and geology.
- NASA is sending a new laser-toting robot as one of seven instruments aboard the Mars 2020 rover.
- Called SuperCam, the robot is used for studying mineralogy and chemistry from up to about 7 metres away. It might help scientists find signs of fossilised microbial life on Mars SuperCam.
- It fires a pulsed laser beam out of the rover’s mast to vaporise small portions of rock from a distance, providing information that will be essential to the mission’s success.
- From more than 7 m away, SuperCam can fire a laser to study rock targets smaller than a pencil point. That lets the rover study spots it can’t reach with its arm.
- SuperCam looks at rock textures and chemicals to find those that formed or changed in the water on Mars long ago
- SuperCam looks at different rock and “soil” types to find ones that could preserve signs of past microbial life on Mars — if any ever existed.
- For the benefit of future explorers, SuperCam identifies which elements in the Martian dust may be harmful to humans.
- Scientists can learn about how atmospheric molecules, water ice, and dust absorb or reflect solar radiation. This helps predict Martian weather better.
- Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.
- It is NASA’s next mission to the Moon.
- Objective: To measure what happens when the Sun’s radiation hits our rocky moon, where there is no magnetic field to protect it.
Significance of the mission:
- With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.
- NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft nearly a quarter-million miles from Earth to lunar orbit.
- Astronauts will dock Orion at the Gateway and transfer to a human landing system for expeditions to the surface of the Moon.
- They will return to the orbital outpost to board Orion again before returning safely to Earth.
Artemis 1, 2 and 3:
- The agency will fly two missions around the Moon to test its deep space exploration systems.
- NASA is working toward launching Artemis I, an uncrewed flight to test the SLS and Orion spacecraft together, followed by the Artemis II mission, the first SLS and Orion test flight with the crew.
- NASA will land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 on the Artemis III mission and about once a year thereafter.
|European Space Missions|
- It is the first European mission to Mercury and the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of the planet and its environment at the same time.
- The orbiters are ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO, or ‘Mio’).
- The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys, with one flyby of Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury, before entering orbit at Mercury in late 2025.
- Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo mission.
Role and objectives
- Shed light on the mysteries of our neighbourhood’s smallest planet (Mercury).
- New insights into how the solar system formed.
- Jupiter Icy moons Explorer of ESA’s (European Space Agency)
- Orbiter mission to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons: Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
- 1st non-American outer Solar System mission
- European Earth Observation Programme
- The main objective is to monitor our planet and its ecosystems.
- Constitutes a constellation of 6 families of satellites known as Sentinels
- Coordinated and managed by the European Commission.
- Copernicus allows full, free and open access to all data collected.
- Scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizen can use this data.
Copernicus and India
- India joined Copernicus in 2018.
- Accordingly, the European Commission will provide India with free, full and open access to the data from the Copernicus Sentinel family.
- On the other hand, Department of Space will provide the Copernicus programme with free, full and open access to the data from ISRO’s land, ocean and atmospheric series of civilian satellites (Oceansat-2, Megha-Tropiques, Scatsat-1, SARAL, INSAT-3D, INSAT-3DR) with the exception of commercial high-resolution satellites data.
- ESA’s mission to Comet Rosetta
- ESA’s campaign for space exploration similar to Discovery and New Frontiers Programmes of NASA
- Will include a number of missions in solar system exploration including – CHEOPS; Comet Interceptor; LISA; ATHENA.
|Chinese Space Missions|
- Chang’e 4 is the fourth mission of China's lunar mission series which is being named after the Chinese moon goddess.
- The tasks of the Chang’e-4 probe include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon.
Significance of the mission
- According to experts, landing on the far side of the moon is undoubtedly one of the most challenging missions ever launched by any of the world’s superpowers.
- Chinese space station
- Also called Heavenly Palace or Celestial Palace 1.
- Launched in 2011, retired in 2018
- Launched in 2016
- Successor to Tiangong-1.
- Currently in orbit
- The aim is to test capabilities for long-term human presence in space.
- 1st Chinese cargo spacecraft to service the Tiangong 2
- Permanent space module of China
- Also called “Harmony of the Heavens”
Fast Array/ Tianyan
- Chinese Radio Telescope
- Short for the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope
- Also called “Sky Eye” or “The Eye of Heaven”
- Chinese space telescope
- Also called “Heavenly Cruiser”
- It has a field 300 times wider than that of the Hubble.
|Japanese Space Missions|
- Japanese space exploration mission to study asteroids
- Hayabusa 1 (2003): to study the features of asteroid ‘Itokawa’.
- The joint lunar mission of ESA, JAXA and Canada
- Japan’s project to support non-spacefaring countries to build their first satellite.
- Called as The Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project (BIRDS).
- Birds1: Five countries participated in the first Bird program: Ghana, Mongolia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.
- Birds-2: Bhutan, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
- A joint effort of Japan and ESA.
- The proposed infrared space telescope Short for Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics
- Aims to elucidate the process that enriched the universe with metal and dust and led to the formation of the habitable world by observing “metal and dust enrichment through galaxy evolution” and “planetary system formation of habitable systems”.
|India's Space Missions|
Project NETRA (Network for space object Tracking and Analysis)
- It is an early warning system in space to detect debris and other hazards to Indian satellites.
- It will give India its own capability in space situational awareness (SSA) like the other space powers — which is used to ‘predict’ threats from debris to Indian satellites.
- It also goes so far as to serve as an unstated warning against missile or space attack for the country, experts say.
- ISRO plans to put up many observational facilities: connected radars, telescopes; data processing units and a control centre.
- NETRA’s eventual goal is to capture the GEO, or geostationary orbit, the scene at 36,000 km where communication satellites operate.
- Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory India project is taking shape in Hingoli district, Maharashtra.
- They consist of a pair of huge interferometers, each having two arms which are 4 km long.
- LIGO, unlike usual telescopes, does not “see” the incoming ripples in spacetime. It does not even need to, because gravitational waves are not a part of the electromagnetic spectrum of light.
- They are not light waves but a different phenomenon altogether — a stretching of spacetime due to the immense gravity.
- A single LIGO detector cannot confidently detect this disturbance on its own. At least two detectors are needed.
- This is because the signal is so weak that even a random noise could give out a signal that can mislead one into thinking a genuine gravitational wave has been detected.
- It is because two detectors have detected the faint signal in a coincidence that the observer is convinced it is a genuine reading and not noise.
- It will be the fifth observatory in the world.
- First two in the USA, third in Italy and fourth in Japan.
Indian Neutrino Observatory
- At Pottipuram village in Theni district near Tamil Nadu-Kerala Border.
- It is an underground project and will comprise a complex of caverns.
- Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is the nodal institution and the observatory is to be built jointly with the Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Science and Technology.
- Most of the neutrino detectors are at latitudes over 35 deg. It is possible to push such a detector down to almost 8 deg latitude in South India, within proximity to the Equator.
- This permits neutrino astronomy searches covering the whole celestial sky and study of solar neutrinos passing through the Earth’s core.
- The Kolar Gold Field mines housed one of the earliest laboratories to study and detect neutrinos. It was located at a depth of 2,000 m. The first atmospheric neutrinos were detected here in 1965.
- The laboratory was shut following the closure of the mines India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) will study atmospheric neutrinos only. Solar neutrinos have much lower energy than the detector can detect.
- Inserted in a halo orbit around the Lagrangian point (L1), about 1.5 million km from the earth.
- Aditya-L1 satellite will study the solar corona, which has more than a million degree Kelvin temperature. It will also study the Chromosphere and particle flux emanating from the sun.
- It is the first state-of-the-art earth observation satellite was to be placed in the geostationary or the geosynchronous equatorial orbit.
- It would facilitate near real-time observation of the Indian sub-continent, under cloud-free condition, at frequent intervals and could also help the armed forces in planning for operations.
- The heaviest satellite built by ISRO, weighing about 5854 kg, launched by Ariane-5
- Intended to provide services to Agriculture, Forestry and Disaster Management domains.
- Chandrayaan-2 mission is a highly complex mission, which represents a significant technological leap compared to the previous missions of ISRO, which brought together an Orbiter, Lander and Rover with the goal of exploring south pole of the Moon.
- This is a unique mission which aims at studying not just one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface as well as the sub-surface of the moon in a single mission.
- It is India's first interplanetary mission and it made it the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after Roscosmos, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It made India the first Asian nation to reach Martian orbit and the first nation in the world to do so on its maiden attempt.
- Design and realisation of a Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earth bound manoeuvres, cruise phase of 300 days, Mars orbit insertion/capture, and on-orbit phase around Mars.
- Deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management. Incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations.
- Exploration of Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere by indigenous scientific instruments.
- Incorporated in 1992 under the Companies Act 1956, it is a wholly-owned Government of India Company under the administrative control of Department of Space (DOS).
- It is the commercial arm of ISRO and promotes and commercially markets the products and services emanating from the Indian Space Programme.
- In 2008, the company was awarded ‘Miniratna’ status Business activities include
- Provisioning of communication satellite transponders to various users, Providing launch services for customer satellites, Marketing of data from Indian and foreign remote sensing satellites, Building and marketing of satellites as well as satellite sub-systems,
- Establishing the ground infrastructure for space applications, and Mission Support services for satellites.
Thirty Metre Telescope
- India, a partner in the construction of one of the largest telescopes in the world, has said it wants the project to be moved out of the proposed site at Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii.
- TMT or Thirty Metre Telescope, as it is called, is a joint venture (JV) involving five countries, but the $2 billion projects have been marred by protests for over a decade.
- The proposed site is considered sacred to indigenous Hawaiians, and also has too many observatories for one more such massive establishment to come up, say groups that have contested the site.
- Hanle, in Ladakh, was also in the running to host the TMT but lost out to Mauna Kea, which is considered a superior site due to the imaging possibilities it offers, its stable weather, and also because it has the necessary infrastructure to manage telescopes, already being host to several telescopes.
- The TMT will enable scientists to study fainter objects far away from us in the universe, which gives information about early stages of evolution of the universe. Also, it will give us finer details of not-so-far-away objects like undiscovered planets and other objects in the Solar System and planets around other stars.
Indian Data Relay Satellite System
- Satellites that will track, send and receive information from other Indian satellites, particularly those in LEO, particularly those with limited coverage of earth.
- It can be used in advanced missions such as space docking, space station and distant expeditions.
- The first beneficiary would be the crew members of Gaganyaan mission.
- Under the Gaganyaan schedule, three flights will be sent in orbit. Of the three, there will be two unmanned flights and one human spaceflight.
- The human space flight programme, called the Orbital Module will have three Indian astronauts, including a woman.
- It will circle Earth at a low-earth-orbit at an altitude of 300-400 km from the earth for 5-7 days.
The payload will consist of:
- Crew module – spacecraft carrying human beings.
- Service module – powered by two liquid-propellant engines.
- It will be equipped with emergency escape and emergency mission abort.
- GSLV Mk III, also called the LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3) the three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.
- Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the PSLV-C45 rocket that carried one Indian and 28 international satellites into space.
- Like many of ISRO’s earlier missions, the launch of PSLV-C45 was special for unique features that were successfully tried out for the first time.
- It was the first time ISRO launched a rocket that injected satellites in three different orbits
- The fourth and last stage of the rocket will function as a satellite itself for some time, instead of being rendered junk after ejecting its payloads. The fourth stage is what remains of the rocket after most of it is discarded — in three stages — during the flight to reduce weight, after running out of the propellant they carry
- The rocket carried four strap-on motors. Strap-ons are booster rockets attached externally to the main rocket, and provide additional thrust, or energy, by firing themselves midway during the flight.
- In earlier flights, ISRO has used two or six strap-on motors. The four extra-large strap-ons used this time reduced the overall weight while still delivering the power equivalent to six motors.
- Have ISRO rockets not launched multiple satellites into orbit before?
- Indeed, ISRO holds the world record for carrying the number of satellites on a single launch vehicle — 104 on PSLV C-37 in February 2017. However, so far, these satellites have been ejected in two different orbits at the most. Three orbits, therefore, is a first.
What is the significance of the achievement?
- Reaching three different orbits gives ISRO a new technological edge. It demonstrated its capability to reuse the fourth-stage engines multiple times, and also showed that the guidance and navigation systems aboard the launch vehicle could be used for much longer times than in earlier missions.
- In practical terms, it will help ISRO pack its future rockets with multiple satellites even if they require to be placed in very diverse but precise orbits. Currently, this could be done only in multiple missions.
What purpose will it serve?
- The fourth stage is carrying three kinds of equipment to carry out some measurements and experiments, and a solar panel to provide power to this equipment and enable communication with ground stations.
- One kind of instrument can be used to capture messages transmitted from ships, another can be used by amateur radio operators use for tracking and monitoring position data, and the third can study the structure and composition of the ionosphere.