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India Prepares For Lunar Mission

October 21, 2008

India is counting down the days until the launch of its first unmanned mission to the moon. The move will mark a giant catch-up step with Japan and China in the fast-developing Asian space race.

The lunar-orbiting spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, is scheduled to blast off aboard an Indian-built rocket Wednesday morning. It takes place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on India’s southeastern coast.

“Everything is going perfectly as planned,” the center’s associate director M.Y.S. Prasad said.

The launch is a major push for India in a growing space race, as it seeks to keep pace with regional space competitors Japan and China.

Last month, China became the third country in the world to carry out a space walk on its own.

All three countries are using their space programs as an important symbol of international stature and economic development. They are also eyeing a share of the commercial satellite launch business.

The Chandrayaan-1 is going on a two-year, $80 million mission to provide an in-depth map of the mineral, chemical, and topographical characteristics of the moon’s surface.

Last year, India first staked its claim to a share of the commercial launch market by sending an Italian satellite into orbit. In January, it launched an Israeli spy satellite despite Iranian protests.

However, it was in 1980 when India first launched a successful domestic satellite by a home-built rocket. The country was less preoccupied with reaping commercial benefits and more with harnessing space technology to boost deficient communications and broadcasting facilities.

G.K. Menon, former head of the Indian Space Research Organization, said the Chandrayaan-1 mission reflected the “remarkable success” of India’s domestic program.

“After this, the next step will be sending a manned mission to the moon for which trials have already begun,” Menon said.

Chinese officials have also discussed a manned mission to the moon in the future. Last month, the country followed the United States and the former Soviet Union by carrying out a space walk. Although a more immediate goal is the establishment of an orbiting space lab.

Beijing’s long-term ambition is to develop a fully-fledged space station by 2020 to rival the International Space Station, a joint project involving the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and a clutch of European countries.

Japan has also been boosting its space program. It has set a goal of sending an astronaut to the moon by 2020.

Japan’s first lunar probe, Kaguya, was successfully launched in September 2007, releasing two mini-satellites that will be used to study the gravity fields of the moon among other projects.

The development of a space race in Asia has security implications, with the potential for developing military applications such as intelligence gathering and space-based weapons.

India started its space program in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to reduce dependence on overseas agencies.

Chandrayaan-1, with a launch weight of about 1.3 tons, is shaped like a rectangular prism and carries 11 payloads — five from India and others from abroad.

The rocket, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, has so far launched 29 satellites.

On the Net:

For more information about Chandrayaan-1, visit:

http://www.isro.org/Chandrayaan

For more information about the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, visit:

http://m3.jpl.nasa.gov  

For more information about the Mini-SAR, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/Mini-RF/main/index.html

For information about NASA’s space exploration program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration




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