Monday, 6 October 2008

India’s LUNAR mission has global flavour too

Check out the foreign payloads that will ride piggyback on Chandrayaan-I

Once the experts defined the scientific goals for India's landmark journey to the moon, they got down to the basics of organizing the logistics. The much-awaited flight could not lift off without zeroing in on the scientific instruments or payloads that the spacecraft would carry to the moon.

With an eye on this, ISRO invited proposals for payloads through an "announcement of opportunity'' towards the end of 2003. The document clearly spelt out the role of an Indian moon mission and the type of payloads that were needed for it. While this was being firmed up, ISRO took a bold decision: it decided to add an international flavour to the country's lunar mission. In other words, foreign space agencies were also invited to participate in the Chandrayaan-I project.

This triggered an overwhelming response, which completely took ISRO officials by surprise. The scientists were flooded with proposals from various international space organizations—the US, Russia, Israel and the European Space Agency. That a space superpower like the US also chose to participate in India's maiden voyage to the moon speaks volumes for the high esteem in which the Indian space programme is held abroad. "The mission evoked more enthusiasm abroad than in India,'' said a scientist.

The sole guiding factor while choosing the proposals was that they had to be compatible with the spacecraft and the mission goals. After thorough scrutiny, 11 payloads were chosen as part of Chandrayaan-I. Of these, five would be from India and the rest from abroad. The five Indian instruments include a terrain mapping camera for topographic mapping, a hyperspectral imager for mineral mapping, a lunar laser ranging instrument for topography and a high energy X-ray spectrometer to identify degassing faults or zones on the moon. Besides, the Chandrayaan-I will unleash a 29-kg moon impact probe on the lunar surface to identify future landing sites. Interestingly, the probe, which was introduced at the behest of former President A P J Abdul Kalam, has the Indian Tricolour and a Sanskrit sloka on its side.

Among the international instruments, three are from the ESA, two from NASA and one from Bulgaria. Among the ESA components, the Sub Kev Atom Reflecting Analyzer will study the various aspects of the moon, the Chandrayaan X-Ray spectrometer will map its surface composition and the Infrared Spectrometer will carry out mineral mapping. Besides, NASA's moon mineralogy mapper will identify resources and the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar will detect polar ice and ascertain topography. The sixth payload—the Radiation Dose Monitor—will be from Bulgaria and will study the radiation environment of the moon.

Ian Crawford of Birbeck College in the UK, who chairs the Chandrayaan's X-Ray spectrometer science team said: "At present, there is a renaissance in lunar exploration. There is still a lot we don't know about the moon. Accurate maps of the surface composition will help us unravel its internal structure and geological history. This will also help us understand better the origin of the earth-moon system.''

l Topography mapping camera
l Hyperspectral imager for mineral mapping
l Lunar laser ranging instrument for topography
l High energy X-ray spectrometer to identify degassing faults
l A 29-kg moon impact probe to identify future landing surface


1 ESA components | Sub Kev Atom Reflecting Analyser | Chandrayaan X-Ray Spectrometer to map lunar composition | Infrared Spectrometer for mineral mapping

2 NASA payload | Moon Mineralogy Mapper | Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar to detect polar ice and ascertain topography

3 Radiation Dose Monitor from Bulgaria to study the moon's radiation environment

X-Ray Spectrometer, an ESA payload, will map lunar composition