With perfect launch, Chandrayaan heads for the moon (Roundup)

October 22nd, 2008 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS  

ISROSriharikota (Andhra Pradesh), Oct 22 (IANS) A perfect launch sent Chandrayaan-1 on an epic voyage of discovery to the moon Wednesday morning, marking a giant scientific leap for India.“To our luck, rain gods and clouds kept away. They also kept away lightning,” said a jubiliant G. Madhavan Nair, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), after the moon probe took off at 6.22 a.m.

A specially-designed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the PSLV C11 hurtled spacewards trailing plumes of fire, piercing a light scattering of clouds overhanging this spaceport off the Andhra Pradesh coast.

During its two-year odyssey, Chandrayaan-1 will map the moon, prospect for helium-3, an important potential fuel for nuclear fusion and also look for signs of water.

Congratulations poured in from around the world and the country’s leadership. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lauded the ISRO scientists, saying the launch “demonstrated the nation’s growing technological potential in peaceful exploration of outer space”.

Indian becomes the sixth country to have sent lunar missions, joining the US, former Soviet Union, European Space Agency, China and Japan. The US returns to lunar exploration aboard Chandrayaan-1, which is carrying two NASA instruments in its payload.

“India has started its journey to the moon,” Nair said minutes after the successful liftoff of the country’s maiden lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 atop the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV C11 from this spaceport 80 km north of Chennai.

“The first leg has gone perfectly. the spacecraft has been launched into orbit,” Nair said.

As the 1,380-kg Chandrayaan-1 started to cruise around the earth in its designated orbit, M.G. Rajasekharan, deputy director of the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (Istrac) near Bangalore, told IANS: “We received the first signal from it at 1 p.m.” Wednesday.

From Thursday, Istrac commanders will start a series of complex manoeuvres through remote control, firing the onboard liquid apogee motor (LAM) of Chandrayaan-1 to take it to the lunar orbit - 387,000 km from earth - by Nov 8.

It was time for much backslapping at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here Wednesday morning, as the 44.4-metre-tall 316-tonne PSLV C11 lifted off perfectly and completed its mission by placing Chandrayaan-1 into its scheduled orbit around the earth within 18 minutes, just as planned.

Top scientists, led by Nair, space centre director M.C. Dathan, associate director M.Y.S. Prasad and others shook hands and hugged one another even as the high-security facility reverberated with clapping of hands and cheers.

Former ISRO chairmen U.R. Rao and K. Kasturirangan and space commission member Roddam Narasimaiah, who were present on the occasion, congratulated Nair and his team.

Prominent dignitaries who witnessed the historic mission from ground zero included Tamil Nadu governor Surjit Singh Barnala and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja.

Nair pointed out that the launch had gone off perfectly despite heavy rain in and around the spaceport till Tuesday evening. “We’ve been fighting the odds for the last four days,” he said.

In fact, during the final hours of the 49-hour countdown to the launch, hopes for the launch were almost given up, Nair said. But the rains held off.

Once Chandrayaan-1 is in orbit around the moon just 100 km above it, the spacecraft will drop its Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which will land on the lunar surface carrying India’s flag, among many scientific instruments. After that, the spacecraft will also activate its cameras and other instruments on board.

Chandrayaan-1 carries 11 experimental payloads, five Indian and six from abroad - the two from NASA, three from the European Space Agency (ESA) and one from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Chandrayaan-1 aims to achieve its objectives through high resolution imaging of the moon in the visible, near infrared, microwave and x-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum,” mission director M. Annadurai told IANS.

A three-dimensional atlas of the lunar surface and chemical mapping of the entire lunar surface are the other objectives of the mission.

India’s mission to the moon is the world’s 68th. Of them, 64 have been launched by the US and the former USSR. China and Japan launched their respective moon missions Chang’e and Kaguya in September and October 2007, while the ESA undertook such a mission from November 2004 to September 2006 with SMART (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology).

Wednesday morning’s launch differed in some important aspects from earlier PSLV launches by ISRO. At liftoff, PSLV C11 weighed 22 tonnes more than the earlier models, as its six strap-on motors were 3.5 metres bigger at 13.5 metres and the rocket carried 12 tonnes of solid propellant as against the usual nine tonnes.

“The vehicle structure was altered to have bigger strap-on motors. The rocket is also padded up with additional thermal insulation,” George Koshy, project director, told IANS.

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