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World|science|December 5, 2020 / 01:00 PM
India's Venus Orbiter 'Shukrayaan' to be launched on Heavy-Duty Rocket, GSLV-Mk III

AKIPRESS.COM - In September, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine had said it’s time to prioritize Venus, one of our closest planetary neighbors. His remark came following the detection of phosphine — a colorless, flammable gas — on the clouds of Venus, which is a possible sign of life on the planet, The Eurasian Times reported.

India is making remarkable strides in its deep-space missions. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has mastered the technologies knowhow for space launches with decades of successes and failures, and today, the space agency helps many countries send their satellites to orbit.

The ISRO has sent multiple missions to deep space, to planet Mars and our neighboring moon, with the agency now gearing up to send a maiden mission to Venus.

India’s first Venus mission, Shukrayaan, has been delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2017, ISRO had announced that Shukrayaan 1 was scheduled for launch by 2023, but subsequent media reports reveal that the same has been deferred till 2024.

According to Space News, an ISRO research scientist apprised a NASA-chartered planetary science planning committee last month about the detailed status of the mission.

ISRO told members of the National Academies’ decadal survey planning committee that pandemic-related delays have pushed Shukrayaan’s target launch date to December 2024 with a mid-2026 backup date, the report said.

The optimal launch windows for reaching Venus occur roughly 19 months apart when Venus and Earth are aligned.

Although a launch vehicle is yet to be decided, the mission is currently slated to be carried by India’s GSLV Mk II rocket.

There is a possibility of the use of the more powerful GSLV Mk III rocket, which would allow Shukrayaan to carry more instruments or fuel. The final decision will be made in the next three to six months once the list of instruments is finalized.

The orbiter weighs about 2,500 kilograms and will carry a science payload consisting of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) among other instruments. The flagship instrument, SAR, would examine the Venusian surface.

The primary science objectives of the mission are to map Venus’ surface and subsurface while studying the planet’s atmospheric chemistry and interaction with the solar wind.

It was revealed that Shukrayaaan’s SAR payload will have up to four times the resolution of NASA’s Magellan orbiter, a Venus mapper launched in 1989. Magellan was the first spacecraft to image the entire surface of Venus through its radar-mapping orbiter, before burning up completely after spending just 10 hours in the Venusian atmosphere.

The discovery of life on the planet has again ignited curiosity among astronomers, but the exploration missions to Venus first began in 1961 with the Soviet space programs, followed by NASA.

NASA’s Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to achieve a fly-by and scan Venus in December 1962. The Soviets’ Venera 4 was the first spacecraft to explore the atmosphere of the planet in 1964.

India also launched Chandrayaan-2 mission to Moon in September last year, which successfully deployed a lunar orbiter that relays scientific data back to earth. But ISRO’s hopes were dashed when it for the first time tried to land the remote-controlled Vikram Lander on the moon after the contact with the landing craft was lost just before the touch-down.

The orbiter, however, continued its journey around the moon, sending crucial science data back to ISRO’s mission control room.

Earlier, ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to Moon discovered water on the surface of the moon. The data supplied by the spacecraft helped the scientists confirm the presence of water on the moon, which was officially announced by NASA around the same time in September 2009.

India’s ambitious next mission to the moon, the Chandrayaan-3, will attempt to soft-land on the moon after its predecessor faced a setback with the maneuver. The mission was lined up for 2020 itself, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s Chandrayaan-3 will now be launched by early 2021, as confirmed by Jitendra Singh, India’s minister of state for the Department of Space, in September 2020.

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