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Aryabhatta was India’s first successfully launched satellite. It was named after a famous Indian astronomer from the 5th century. It was launched by the Soviet Union April 19, 1975 from Kapustin Yar, U.S.S.R. The satellite was built by the Indian Space Research Organization to conduct experiments in x ray astronomy, aeronomics, and solar physics. The satellite represents India’s first major efforts at space exploration.
The Aryabhatta satellite like many early satellites had a compact design. The spacecraft was a 26 sided polygon 1.4m in diameter. All faces except the top and bottom were covered with silicon solar cells. In addition it had a rechargeable Nickel Cadmium battery. The launch vehicle used to send it into orbit was a Cosmo 3 rocket while it was meant to be a long term satellite, a power failure ended experiments after just 4 days orbit. All signals from the spacecraft were lost a day later.
The Aryabhatta satellite also carried a scientific payload of instruments. They included Doppler radar, interferometry, and tone ranging systems for satellite tracking purposes. It also carried instruments for X-ray astronomy, neutron and gamma ray detectors, as well as experiments for voice transmission, and weather data. Unfortunately the power failure incident forced the shutdown of the two final experiments ahead of schedule.
The Aryabhatta satellite mission had three main objectives. First was to evolve the methodology of conducting a series of complex operations on a satellite while it is in orbit. The next mission objective was to set up ground based receiving, transmitting, and tracking systems. The final objective was to establish infrastructure for the fabrication of spacecraft systems. In essence the mission was to test the ability of India to successfully build and launch a spacecraft and develop key tracking and fabrication technologies for the creation of future spacecraft.
The Aryabhatta satellite was a major first step for the Indian Space Program. Space exploration has always been a difficult field for nations to break into. This makes any success towards developing capability an important event. India is still focused on the development of space probes and satellites but as its economy grows and strengthens it will likely start looking to developing its capacity for manned spaceflight. Testing the launch systems of satellites may seem unrelated but both use similar launch systems. The experience will help with the future development of the India space program.
We have written related articles about Aryabhatta for Universe Today. Here’s an article about artificial satellites, and here’s an article about India’s moon mission.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Moon. Listen here, Episode 113: The Moon, Part 1.