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We are capable of sending a spacecraft to Mars: ISRO chief

T.S. Subramanian

“Our GSLV can take a 500 kg spacecraft to the Martian orbit”

— Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

STRIDES IN SCIENCE: The former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, being received by K. Madhavan Nair, Chairman of ISRO at the IAC near Hyderabad on Thursday.

HYDERABAD: India has signalled its intention to send a spacecraft (orbiter) to Mars. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has already made an announcement of opportunity to the scientific community, asking them “to suggest what are the scientific objectives they would like to achieve in having a Mars mission,” G. Madhavan Nair, ISRO Chairman, said here on Thursday. “Once concrete proposals are available, we will be able to undertake a Mars mission …Our GSLV [Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle] can take a 500-kg spacecraft to the Martian orbit,” he said.

Mr. Nair told a press conference on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) progressing here: “We are trying to enthuse our own laboratories in India and the universities. They have to suggest what are the scientific objectives they would like to achieve in having a Mars mission. Then we have ADCOS — Advisory Committee for Science Missions for the ISRO. That committee will review such proposals. Once concrete proposals are available, we will be able to undertake a Mars mission. But basically, the technical capability to send a spacecraft to Mars exists with us … If there are good scientific objectives, we will undertake such a mission.”

The ISRO has struck a special “arrangement” with Arianespace under which the Arianespace “will deflect” to the Antrix Corporation Limited (the commercial wing of the Department of Space) the proposals that Arianespace would receive for launching satellites weighing around two tonnes or smaller payloads weighing from 50 kg to 100 kg. Arianespace had a powerful vehicle for carrying ten tonnes into geosynchronous transfer orbit. So it would divert to the Antrix the launch of medium range satellites and even smaller payloads. “India will be exploiting this. This is establishing partnership. Once you have partnership, you are equals,” he said. Besides this arrangement, if India received any direct proposals from countries to launch their satellites, India would do so. “The PSLV [Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle] and the GSLV have established our capability,” Mr. Nair said.

Between 2009 and 2011, India would launch seven satellites for an independent, stand-alone constellation called the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (INRS). These satellites would help ships, aircraft and vehicles in navigation. The satellite design had been completed. The project cost was Rs.1,600 crore.

The ISRO would launch 60 satellites in the next five years from Sriharikota, he said.

Asked whether this was possible when the ISRO was now doing only three or four launches a year from Sriharikota, Mr. Nair, while conceding that this amounted to making “a big demand on the ISRO,” was confident that 150 industries manufacturing sub-systems and components for its launch vehicles and satellites, would deliver. “We are gearing up to meet this challenge. We hope by outsourcing more and more, we will be able to meet this target of 60 missions in the next five years.” These satellites would be used for communication, predicting weather, undertaking science missions, etc.

The relationship between the NASA and the ISRO improved considerably in the last two years, he said. The thrust given by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin will lead to two American payloads being flown on Chandrayaan-1, to be launched in April 2008 by PSLV-XL to orbit the moon.

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