ISRO, considered the new kid on the block in the multi-billion dollar world launcher market, hopes to set an enviable benchmark for the spacefaring nations.
India plans to go to Venus for the first time and revisit the red planet, Mars, soon. Buried and hidden in the hundreds of pages of the new format electronic budget documents, is the first formal acknowledgement by the government about these two new bold inter-planetary sojourns to Earth’s immediate neighbors.
This uplifting news comes ahead of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) attempting to undertake its mega launch where it will place not five, ten or twenty, but a record 104 satellites in space in a single mission. No other country has ever tried to hit a century in a single mission. Russia holds the current record of 37 satellites. They launched the satellites in 2014 using a modified intercontinental ballistic missile.
The mission to Mars is tentatively slated for 2021-22 and as per existing plans it may well involve putting a robot on the Martian surface. While India’s first Mars mission in 2013 was purely indigenous, the French space agency wants to collaborate in making the Mars rover.
India’s maiden mission to Venus, the second planet of the solar system named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, is in all probability going to be a modest orbiter mission.
If all goes according to the plan, on the morning of February 15, ISRO will hurl into space using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) three Indian satellites and a 101 small foreign satellites.
The mission has another significance. It will bring arch-rivals, Israel and the Arab world, together in a single launch for the first time. An Isro official told TOI on Tuesday that the 104 satellites include one from Israel and another from Dubai. “The last satellite which was included was from a private firm in Dubai and is a nano satellite. It is significant that we have brought together Israel and the Arab world,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made science and technology, research and space programmes as one of his government’s top priorities. To give it a boost, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has given the Department of Space a massive 23 per cent increase in this year’s budget. Under the space sciences section, the budget mentions provisions for “Mars Orbiter Mission II and Mission to Venus”.
Of the 104 satellites, to be launched by ISRO on Wednesday, the largest chunk of 88, 4.7 kg each, which it calls ‘Doves’, is from United States. The satellites are from a single American organization, Planet, located in California. The other foreign satellites are from Kazakhstan, the Netherlands and Switzerland. There are only three Indian satellites–Cartosat 2 and two Indian nano satellites. A majority of the satellites are for earth imaging.
From previous launches, ISRO has mastered the art of ensuring that no collisions take place. In less than 600 seconds all satellites will be released into space each travelling at a velocity of over 27,000 km per hour or at 40 times the speed of an average passenger airliner.