Following the recent launches of a communication satellite and astronomy observatory, India's space agency has announced an ambitious plan to increase satellite launches to around 12 a year, up from 4-5 annually. This will mean a launch every month.
Addressing students at an event in the western city of Pune, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman A S Kiran Kumar said the agency even hopes to push up the number to 18 annually. In 2014, there were 92 space launches worldwide, with Russia, the United States and China accounting for over 80 percent. Russia completed 36 orbital launches, the United States another 23 and China 16, according to Spaceflight Now.
India is poised to be a global leader in space programs with plans for its first solar mission and a second moon foray by 2020, besides continuing operations of its Mars programme.
Isro will soon be launching five satellites for Singapore using the advanced version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The country's first solar mission, Aditya-1, is to take off in 2018-2019. It plans to study the sun from a position at the Lagrangian-1 point, 1.5 million kms from Earth. The L1 point allows an uninterrupted view of the sun and is also where the Nasa/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite (Soho) is parked.
At present, there are 29 Indian satellites in orbit. Kumar said the constellation of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System would be completed by March 2016. He touched upon the features of the second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, to be launched between 2017 and 2018. The programme includes a rover which will operate on the moon's surface for 14 days. A study team is also exploring the feasibility of space missions to Venus or an asteroid, he said.
Isro recently placed in orbit the 3164-kg GSAT-15, a communications satellite,. It was launched successfully by the European Ariane 5 VA-227. This followed the launch of its dedicated space observatory Astrosat by the PSLV-C30, along with six other satellites from international customers.
Mars Orbiter in good health
Meanwhile, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) continues to be in operation well beyond its expected life expectancy of half a year. It continues to use its five science instruments. The payloads on board have led to a couple of papers with more to come.
The Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) payload, which has contributed to a paper discussing the dust patterns of Valles Marineris region, is believed to have unveiled more knowledge about the presence of methane on the surface and atmosphere. Another publication will soon detail findings from the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA).Pictures taken by MOM's camera have revealed a never-before-seen side of Deimos, the smaller of Mars's two moons.
Launched in November 2013 and parked in a Martian orbit in September 2014, the MOM has many firsts to its credit. It was the first successful maiden launch by any country to Mars, besides being the cheapest. Intended merely as a technical demonstration of the agency's capability, the mission has exceeded expectations and continues to send back terabytes of data.