ISRO’s upcoming venus mission

The Indian Space Research Organisation is the space agency of the Indian government headquartered in the city of Bengaluru. Its vision is to “harness space technology for national development, while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration”.

The space research activities were initiated in our country during the early 1960’s, when applications using satellites were in experimental stages even in the United States. With the live transmission of Tokyo Olympic Games across the Pacific by the American Satellite ‘Syncom-3’ demonstrating the power of communication satellites, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of Indian space programme, quickly recognized the benefits of space technologies for India. He was convinced and envisioned that the resources in space have the potential to address the real problems of man and society.

Thus, since inception, the Indian space programme had three distinct elements – satellites for communication and remote sensing, the space transportation system and application programmes. Formed in 1969, ISRO superseded the erstwhile Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), which was established in 1962 by the efforts of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and his close aide and scientist Vikram Sarabhai. The establishment of ISRO thus institutionalised space activities in India. It is managed by the Department of Space, which reports to the Prime Minister of India.

Marking India’s first venture into the interplanetary space, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was supposed to explore and observe Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and the Martian atmosphere. Further, a specific search for methane in the Martian atmosphere in this mission would provide information about the possibility or the past existence of life on the planet.

In September 2014, India created history in space when MOM successfully entered into the Martian orbit, thus becoming the fourth space agency to reach Mars and the first country in the world to enter the orbit of the Red Planet in the first attempt.

After a hugely successful mission to Mars where India beat China in reaching the Red Planet’s orbit, the ISRO now seeks to foray more into the Solar System with missions being planned for exploring Venus, a revisit to Mars and a trip to an asteroid.

Known as the sister planet to Earth and named after the goddess of love, Venus appears as the brightest object seen in the night sky after the moon. The second planet in the solar system is similar to Earth in its size, mass and proximity but it has the dense atmosphere mostly made up of carbon di-oxide while that of the Earth comprises nitrogen and oxygen. It is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had oceans in the past, but these would have vaporized as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect. As temperatures hover around 460 degrees Celsius, finding life similar to what we have on Earth is near impossible on Venus now. On an average, Venus is about 261 million kilometres away from Earth.

In an exclusive interview, Kiran Kumar, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says “We are looking at opportunities on what should be our next planetary mission, in this we are looking at opportunities whether it is a repeat Mars mission, or Venus mission or even an asteroid mission.”

“Venus is our neighbor and has many scientific challenges and aspects that need to be studied. Exploring an asteroid is also challenging task”, he explained.

A detailed outline of the project has to be formulated for this before we chart out a proper roadmap for the missions and the associated explorations, he was further quoted as saying.

According to the ISRO scientists, the mission to Venus will focus on its atmosphere. And Jacques Blamont, an astrophysicist, has offered to provide the ISRO with gigantic balloons carrying several instruments designed to deploy in and out of the extremely hot atmosphere of the planet after being unfettered from the orbiter.

So far, only Russia, the United States, and the European Space Agency (ESA) have successfully sent their missions to Venus. In December 2015, Japan will try to insert its Akatsuki probe into the planet’s orbit again after their first attempt had failed in 2010.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now embarking on a new planet-hunting endeavour and its interest in exploring other locations in space opens the possibility for a partnership between India and the United States in order to carry out future missions. Speaking to the students of Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai Richard Verma, Ambassador of USA to India sprung a surprise by saying, “We look forward to path-breaking work between NASA and ISRO on deep space exploration to Mars and beyond”.

Thus, the Venus Orbiter Mission is possibly one of the upcoming missions that the ISRO will undertake. This mission will not only cause progress in the interplanetary space explorations planned by the nation but also improve collaboration between India and the USA.


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