(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 08, 2013
The Mars Mission Moves out of Earth's Gravity
past midnight of November 30,
Mars also has a heliocentric orbit. So how will the Mangalyaan also on a heliocentric orbit catch up Mars and go into a Mars centred orbit?
The trick comes from the kind of orbits both Mars and Mangalyaan has. Mangalyaan has a relatively elliptic orbit while Mars has a much more circular orbit. At some point the Mangalyaan's orbit will cross the Mars orbit. That is the small window that exists; it allows with some additional manoeuvres Mangalyaan to be captured by Mars gravity, and from there orbiting around Mars.
There were three challenging parts to the Mars mission the launch itself, raising the orbit successfully for the sun's gravity to capture Mangalyaan and last, the capturing of the orbiter by Mars and put it in a Mars-centric orbit. The first two have now been completed successfully and we now have to see whether the third stage is equally successful.
second stage of the
Indian space communications network has provided the
required for sending commands to Mangalyaan and for it to
receive and perform
the necessary tasks,
have been various criticisms of
is true that the scientific objectives of the Mars mission are
scientific payload was very small the on-board instruments
are only five and
weigh a meagre 15 kg out of a weight of 1,350 kg lift-off mass
space-craft. Of course, the bulk of this mass is the fuel
required by the
on-board engines that perform the necessary burns. It is also
true that the
project was put together in a hurry to utilise the 2013
window, without which
the next window for such a mission would have been early 2016. Such windows occur
only once every 26 months.
Critics have also suggested that a part of the hurry is
it must also be recognised that ISRO's primary goal for the
Mars mission is not
the scientific exploration of Mars. If it were so, then
ill-suited for this venture. With existing orbiters, the Mars
Rover, and the
NASA Maven Mars orbiter also reaching Mars at almost the same
The primary objective and ISRO has stated this upfront is developing technological capabilities of ISRO and demonstrating it to the world. ISRO says in its website what its technological objectives are:
· Design and realisation of a Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earth bound manoeuvres, cruise phase of 300 days, Mars orbit insertion / capture, and on-orbit phase around Mars.
· Deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management.
· Incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations.
In other words, it is largely about show-casing ISRO's abilities to plan and undertake complex missions, handle deep space communications and navigations, and handle contingencies. The scientific objective was stated by ISRO from the beginning to be a secondary objective and indeed it remains a small part of the mission.
Before we address other questions, we must register that Indian space program now is deeply constrained by the failure of its GSLV program. The indigenous cryogenic engines have yet to work successfully and this has meant ISRO continuing to use the PSLV launchers that are relatively less powerful as the work horse for its space program. This limits the kind of orbits that ISRO can plan and also affects the size of the payload that we can put into space.
There is some merit in the argument that ISRO's focus should have been and definitely should now be on making GSLV work. Otherwise, we might claim to have entered the space club as a full member, but we will still continue to be a junior one. And this has serious commercial implications for our space program.
question is not about what should be
our priorities in science and technology. It is really about
advanced science and technology projects and regarding any
such investments as
a luxury for
I am quite amazed how a set of well meaning people can fall prey to essentially neo-colonial understanding of poverty and development. The developed countries are rich and the developing countries are not this is what we see around us. Why are the developed countries rich? It is precisely because they have developed science and technological capabilities and are now living off this advanced knowledge. Today, when we buy goods in the market, including products of agriculture, we are also paying for the knowledge embedded in these goods. It might be the software that is there even in the cell-phones or TV sets that we use; it might be the materials that are used to build greenhouses, and a host of other products. Yes, a lot of this knowledge also goes to build luxury goods for the rich. But today, without scientific knowledge and technology, we cannot either manufacture goods or produce food for the people.
brings us to the next question, what
way does a space program benefit the
second major use of the space program
is in telecommunications and television. Satellites carry
circuits that are
used for both communications and carrying the television
signals to our homes.
Except the few land-based channels for example Doordarshan
Apart from this, a space program has other uses also. It does mapping of the land satellite imagery allowing for planned development, knowing crop patterns, forest areas, water courses, and many other details indispensable for any government today.
market for space launchers and
satellites including, weather, communications, scientific
purposes is a
huge one. It is worth about $ 30 billion and is still growing.
It is this
market that is almost exclusively with the
is this market that
Finally, why do we always want to talk about wasteful expenditure only when we look at investments in science. Why do we not analyse the tax foregone that is reported in every budget. In 2012-2013, the tax foregone was an astronomical Rs 533,582 crore ($97 billion). Contrast this with the total science budget, which is less than 10% of this amount. The customs duty foregone on jewellery, precious stones, diamonds, etc in 2010-11 was about Rs 49,000 crore or about ten times the budget for space that year.
are far better places to hunt for
money for the poor than from