India’s approaching Rs 800-crore Chandrayaan-2 mission will be cheaper than Hollywood’s 2014 sci-fi movie ‘Interstellar’ that cost Rs 1,062 crore ($165 million). In fact, Isro’s earlier Mars mission (Rs 470 crore) launched in 2013 was also cheaper than another Hollywood space movie ‘Gravity’ (whose budget was Rs 644 crore or $100 million) made in the same year. So, what makes Indian Space Research Organisation’s space and interplanetary missions practical?
In an exclusive interview with TOI, Isro chairman Dr K Sivan explained the frugal nature of their space and interplanetary missions. He said, “Simplifying the system, miniaturising the complex huge system, strict quality control and maximising output from a product make our space missions frugal and cost-effective. We keep strict vigil on each and every stage of development of a spacecraft or a rocket and, therefore, we are able to avoid wastage of products, which assists us minimise the mission cost.”
Isro will try to launch the Chandrayaan-2 mission, involving a soft-landing on the moon’s surface and rover walk, sometime in April. However, there are various factors like moon’s relative position with respect to the Earth that will decide the launch date. Dr Sivan said, “We are trying for a dawn-to-dusk landing and rover walk on the lunar’s mission for maximum utilisation of the scientific mission. If we are not capable to land in April due to different factors, then the mission will be launched in November. If we launch between April and Novemberwe won’t get the perfect dawn-to-dusk landing and experiment time due to moon eclipses, therefore, we will avoid the launch in between. The perfect timing for the launch comes only once in a month.”
Unlike NASA’s Apollo and Russia’s Luna missions where the rover landed on the equatorial region of the moon, Isro is planning to land the rover near the South Pole. The Isro chairman said, “We have chosen the landing site near the South Pole as it has big rocks that are billions of years old. Analysing these rocks and the surface will assist us explore the moon better and enrich our understanding of the universe.” After soft-landing, the six-wheeled rover will get detached from the lander and move 100-200 metre on the moon’s surface and analyse content. It will remain active for 14 earth days (one lunar day) and send back data and pictures to the Earth via the orbiter within 15 minutes.
Asked about Russia’s initial participation in the Chandrayaan-2 mission, Dr Sivan said, “Earlier, Russia promised us to provide a rover for the mission. However, Isro scientists wanted their own rover. During that period, Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission for Mars involving the lander failed. Russia then wanted to buy time to correct the fault that led to the mission failure. Keeping the circumstances in mind, Isro then planned to develop own rover and lander. Therefore, it’s a completely indigenous programme now.”
He said simulations tests on different Chandrayaan-2 components had been going on at Isro centres in Bengaluru, Mahendragiri and Chitradurga, Karnataka. Isro, in fact, created some artificial ‘lunar craters’ as component of ‘hazard avoidance and landing’ tests.