Reflecting its growth as a global power, India has achieved some impressive progress in space lately. In the past decade, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has sent robotic spacecraft into orbit, to the Moon, and also to Mars. And today, they made their first attempt at a soft lunar landing by sending the Vikram lander towards the surface of the Moon.
This move would have made India the fourth nation in the world to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. The landing sequence went as planned until the lander reached an altitude of 2.1 km (1.3 mi) above the surface. Unfortunately, communications with the lander was lost at that point and it is unclear whether the lander crashed. At the moment, the ISRO is analyzing data collected by the orbiter to determine what happened.
India’s national space agency – the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – has come a long way in recent years. In 2008, the agency launched its first lunar explorer, Chandrayaan-1, which also deployed a lander (the Moon Impact Probe) to the surface. And then there was the Mangalayaan mission – aka. the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – which made history on Sept. 24th, 2014, when it became the first probe to enter orbit around Mars on the first try.
In their latest feat, the ISRO established a new record for the number of satellites launched in a single mission. In what was the thirty-ninth launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the organization deployed 104 satellites into orbit. In so doing, they have effectively overtaken the previous record of 37 – which was established by Roscosmos in June of 2014.
This launch was also the thirty eighth successful mission in a row for the PSLV. which has been in service since the early 1990s. Prior to this flight, the rocket had successfully launched a total of 71 satellites and spacecraft – 31 of which were Indian – into a variety of orbits. The most satellites it launched at one time was 20, which took place on June 22nd, 2016, with the launch of the PSLV-C34 mission.
Hence, it has not only beaten its own record this single launch (and by a factor of five, no less), but more than doubled the total amount of satellites it has deployed. This mission also pushed the total number of Indian-made satellites sent into space aboard the PSLV rocket to 46, and the number of customer satellites that India has launched to 180.
“PSLV-C37 lifted off at 0928 hrs (9:28 am) IST, as planned, from the First Launch Pad. After a flight of 16 minutes 48 seconds, the satellites achieved a polar Sun Synchronous Orbit of 506 km inclined at an angle of 97.46 degree to the equator (very close to the intended orbit) and in the succeeding 12 minutes, all the 104 satellites successfully separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence beginning with Cartosat-2 series satellite, followed by INS-1 and INS-2.”
Shortly after the launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took to Twitter to congratulate the scientists and laud the space agency for its record-breaking accomplishment. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists,” he tweeted. “Congratulations to @isro for the successful launch of PSLV-C37 and CARTOSAT satellite together with 103 nano satellites!”
The cargo consisted of a Cartosat-2 Series Satellite, which is the latest in a series of ISRO Earth-observation satellites. In the coming days, the satellite will position itself and begin to provide remote sensing services using its state-of-the-art panchromatic (PAN) camera – which takes black and white pictures of the Earth in the visible and EM spectrum – and its multi-spectral (color) cameras.
In addition, two technology demonstration satellites from India were deployed – the Nano Satellite-1 (INS-1) and INS-2. The remaining 101 co-passenger satellites were all the property of the ISRO’s international customers – with 96 coming from the US, and five coming from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.
In addition to demonstrating the capability of India’s launch workhorse, this latest mission also shows the growing importance countries like India play in the modern space age. In the coming years, the ISRO hopes to commence its proposed human spaceflight program, which if successful will make it the fourth nation to conduct crewed missions to space (alongside NASA, Roscosmos, and China).
And be sure to check out the video below for footage of the PSLV-C37 mission’s liftoff and on-board camera video:
Over the course of the past few decades, our ongoing exploration the Solar System has revealed some surprising discoveries. For example, while we have yet to find life beyond our planet, we have discovered that the elements necessary for life (i.e organic molecules, volatile elements, and water) are a lot more plentiful than previously thought. In the 1960’s, it was theorized that water ice could exist on the Moon; and by the next decade, sample return missions and probes were confirming this.
Since that time, a great deal more water has been discovered, which has led to a debate within the scientific community as to where it all came from. Was it the result of in-situ production, or was it delivered to the surface by water-bearing comets, asteroids and meteorites? According to a recent study produced by a team of scientists from the UK, US and France, the majority of the Moon’s water appears to have come from meteorites that delivered water to Earth and the Moon billions of years ago.
For the sake of their study, which appeared recently in Nature Communications, the international research team examined the samples of lunar rock and soil that were returned by the Apollo missions. When these samples were originally examined upon their return to Earth, it was assumed that the trace of amounts of water they contained were the result of contamination from Earth’s atmosphere since the containers in which the Moon rocks were brought home weren’t airtight. The Moon, it was widely believed, was bone dry.
However, that which was discovered on the surface paled in comparison the water that was discovered beneath it. Evidence of water in the interior was first revealed by the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter – which carried the NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) and delivered it to the surface. Analysis of this and other data has showed that water in the Moon’s interior is up to a million times more abundant than what’s on the surface.
The presence of so much water beneath the surface has begged the question, where did it all come from? Whereas water that exists on the Moon’s surface in lunar regolith appears to be the result of interaction with solar wind, this cannot account for the abundant sources deep underground. A previous study suggested that it came from Earth, as the leading theory for the Moon’s formation is that a large Mars-sized body impacted our nascent planet about 4.5 billion years ago, and the resulting debris formed the Moon. The similarity between water isotopes on both bodies seems to support that theory.
However, according to Dr. David A. Kring, a member of the research team that was led by Jessica Barnes from Open University, this explanation can only account for about a quarter of the water inside the moon. This, apparently, is due to the fact that most of the water would not have survived the processes involved in the formation of the Moon, and keep the same ratio of hydrogen isotopes.
Instead, Kring and his colleagues examined the possibility that water-bearing meteorites delivered water to both (hence the similar isotopes) after the Moon had formed. As Dr. Kring told Universe Today via email:
“The current study utilized analyses of lunar samples that had been collected by the Apollo astronauts, because those samples provide the best measure of the water inside the Moon. We compared those analyses with analyses of meteoritic samples from asteroids and spacecraft analyses of comets.”
By comparing the ratios of hydrogen to deuterium (aka. “heavy hydrogen”) from the Apollo samples and known comets, they determined that a combination of primitive meteorites (carbonaceous chondrite-type) were responsible for the majority of water to be found in the Moon’s interior today. In addition, they concluded that these types of comets played an important role when it comes to the origins of water in the inner Solar System.
For some time, scientists have argued that the abundance of water on Earth may be due in part to impacts from comets, trans-Neptunian objects or water-rich meteoroids. Here too, this was based on the fact that the ratio of the hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and protium) in asteroids like 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko revealed a similar percentage of impurities to carbon-rich chondrites that were found in the Earth’s coeans.
But how much of Earth’s water was delivered, how much was produced indigenously, and whether or not the Moon was formed with its water already there, have remained the subject of much scholarly debate. Thank to this latest study, we may now have a better idea of how and when meteorites delivered water to both bodies, thus giving us a better understanding of the origins of water in the inner Solar System.
“Some meteoritic samples of asteroids contain up to 20% water,” said Kring. “That reservoir of material – that is asteroids – are closer to the Earth-Moon system and, logically, have always been a good candidate source for the water in the Earth-Moon system. The current study shows that to be true. That water was apparently delivered 4.5 to 4.3 billion years ago.“
The existence of water on the Moon has always been a source of excitement, particularly to those who hope to see a lunar base established there someday. By knowing the source of that water, we can also come to know more about the history of the Solar System and how it came to be. It will also come in handy when it comes time to search for other sources of water, which will always be a factor when trying to establishing outposts and even colonies throughout the Solar System.
When they first set foot on the Moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts painted a picture of the landscape as a bone-dry desert. So astronomers were naturally surprised when in 2009, three probes showed that a lot of water is locked up in minerals in the soil. There has been some debate as to where the water came from, but now two researchers with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, have determined that most of the water in the soil on the surface of the Moon was formed due to protons in the solar wind colliding with oxygen in lunar dust, rather than from comet or meteorite impacts.
The first hints that there was water on the Moon came when India’s Chandrayaan-1 found hints of water across the lunar surface when it measured a dip in reflected sunlight at a wavelength absorbed only by water and hydroxyl, a molecule that contains one atom of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.
Radar has been used since the 1960s to map the lunar surface, but until recently it has been difficult to get a good look at the Moon’s poles. In 2009, the Mini-SAR radar instrument on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was able to map more than 95% of both poles at 150 meter radar resolution, and now the Mini-RF instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter — which has 10 times the resolution of the Mini-SAR — is about halfway through its first high-resolution mapping campaign of the poles. The two instruments are revealing there are likely massive amounts of water in the permanently shadowed craters at the poles, with over 600 million metric tons at the north pole alone. “If that was turned into rocket fuel, it would be enough to launch the equivalent of one Space Shuttle per day for over 2,000 years,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator for the Mini-SAR, speaking at the annual Lunar Forum at the Ames Research Center in July.
Both Spudis and Ben Bussey, principal investigator for LRO’s Mini-RF shared images from their respective instruments at the Forum, highlighting polar craters that exhibit unusual radar properties consistent with the presence of ice.
They have found over 40 craters on the Moon’s north pole that exhibit these properties.
Both instruments provide details of the interior of shadowed craters, not able to be seen in visible light. In particular, a measurement called the circular polarization ratio (CPR) shows the characteristics of the radar echoes, which give clues to the nature of the surface materials in dark areas. The instruments send pulses of left-polarized radio waves to measure the surface roughness of the Moon. While smooth surfaces send back a reversed, right-polarized wave, rough areas return left-polarized waves. Ice, which is transparent to radio waves, also sends back left-polarized waves. The instruments measure the ratio of left to right circular polarized power sent back, which is the CPR.
Few places – even in our solar system — have a CPR greater than 1 but such places have thick deposits of ice, such as Martian polar caps, or the icy Galilean satellites. They are also seen in rough, rocky ejecta around fresh, young craters, but there, scientists also observe high CPR outside the crater rim such as in this image, below of the Main L crater on the Moon.
Most of the Moon has low CPR, but dozens of anomalous north pole craters, such as a small 8 km crater within the larger Rozhdestvensky crater, had a high CPR on the inside, with a low CPR on the rims. That suggests some material within the craters, rather than surface roughness, caused the high CPR signal.
“Geologically, we don’t expect rough, fresh surfaces to be present inside a crater rim but absent outside of it,” Spudis said. “This confirms the high CPR in these anomalous craters is not caused by surface roughness, and we interpret this to mean that water ice is present in these craters.”
Additionally, the ice would have to be several meters thick to give this signature. “To see this elevated CPR effect, the ice must have a thickness on the order of tens of wavelengths of the radar used,” he said. “Our radar wavelength is 12.6 cm, therefore we think that the ice must be at least two meters thick and relatively pure.”
Recent Mini-SAR images (top image) from LRO confirm the Chandrayaan-1 data, with even better resolution. The Mini-RF, Bussey said, is equivalent to a combination of the Arecibo Observatory and the Greenbank Radio telescope in looking at the Moon. “Our polar campaign will map from 70 degrees to the poles and so far we are very pleased with the coverage and quality of the data,” Bussey said.
Spudis said they are seeing less anamolous craters on the Moon’s south pole, but both he and Bussey are looking forward to comparing more data between the two radar instruments to learn more about the permanently shadowed craters on the Moon.
Additionally, other instruments on LRO will also provide insights into the makeup of these anomalous craters.
It’s no longer a question of if there is water on the Moon; now it is how much. Scientists using the Mini-SAR instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft have detected water ice deposits near the moon’s north pole. Mini-SAR, a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar, found more than 40 small craters with water ice. The craters range in size from 2 to15 km (1 to 9 miles) in diameter. Although the total amount of ice depends on its thickness in each crater, it is estimated there could be at least 600 million metric tons of water ice.
“The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition and retention are occurring on the moon,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator of the Mini-SAR experiment at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “The new discoveries show the moon is an even more interesting and attractive scientific, exploration and operational destination than people had previously thought.”
During the past year, the Mini-SAR mapped the moon’s permanently-shadowed polar craters that aren’t visible from Earth. The radar uses the polarization properties of reflected radio waves to characterize surface properties. Results from the mapping showed deposits having radar characteristics similar to ice.
“After analyzing the data, our science team determined a strong indication of water ice, a finding which will give future missions a new target to further explore and exploit,” said Jason Crusan, program executive for the Mini-RF Program for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington.
The results are consistent with recent findings of other NASA instruments and add to the growing scientific understanding of the multiple forms of water found on the moon. Previously, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper discovered water molecules in the moon’s polar regions, while water vapor was detected by NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS.
Mini-SAR and Moon Mineralogy Mapper are two of 11 instruments on Chandrayaan-1. The Mini-SAR’s findings are being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Times are tough, but you have to wonder what this guy was thinking. Stewart David Nozette, 52, who was involved in the recent discovery of water on the Moon by the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft has been arrested for espionage for allegedly trying to sell details of US missile detection satellites in exchange for cash. Nozette was attempting to sell classified information to a person who he believed was an Israeli intelligence officer. Nozette is a fairly prominent scientist who helped conceive the 1994 Clementine mission to the Moon, and currently is a co-investigator on Chandrayaan-1, the Indian Moon mission, and on an instrument aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
According to a 16th October FBI affidavit, Nozette was contacted last month by an undercover officer posing as an agent working for the Israeli Intelligence Agency. Nozette agreed to accept money in exchange for his past access to top secret documents.
As former government physicist, allegedly Nozette worked for almost every military shop in the US government including the Air Force’s Phillips Laboratory, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Administration (DARPA). He also served on president George H. W. Bush’s space council and worked with NASA.
This isn’t the first time Nozette has been in trouble with the government. According to press reports, a small non-profit Nozette ran came under investigation by NASA in 2006 for misusing funds to pay for utilities, three mortgages a tennis club membership.
But this time the charges are more serious.
According to the Nature Blog, Nozette has worked for with Israeli contacts previously. The FBI affidavit says that between 1998 and 2008, an Israeli aerospace company “wholly owned by the Government of the State of Israel” paid Nozette some $225,000. “I thought I was working for you already,” Nozette told the agent in a transcript reproduced in the affidavit. “I mean that’s what I always thought, the [foreign company] was just a front.”
In September and October, Nozette allegedly provided details of a “prototype overhead collection system” to the FBI agent in exchange for cash payments of $2,000 and $9,000 dollars. He will appear later today in United States District court for the District of Columbia to face a single charge of attempted espionage.
In late September, a team of scientists announced finding water molecule signatures across much of the Moon’s surface. Now, a second instrument on board India’s Chandrayaan-1’s lunar orbiter confirms how the water is being produced. The Sub keV Atom reflecting Analyzer (SARA) corroborates that electrically charged particles from the Sun interact with the oxygen present in some dust grains on the lunar surface to produce water. But the results bring out a new mystery of why some protons get reflected and not absorbed.
Scientists likened the Moon’s surface to a big sponge that absorbs the electrically charged particles. The lunar surface is a loose collection of irregular dust grains, or regolith, and the incoming charged particles should be trapped in the spaces between the grains and absorbed. When this happens to protons they are expected to interact with the oxygen in the lunar regolith to produce hydroxyl and water.
The SARA results confirm findings from Chandrayaan-1’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) that solar hydrogen nuclei are indeed being absorbed by the lunar regolith; however SARA data show that not every proton is absorbed. One out of every five rebounds into space. In the process, the proton joins with an electron to become an atom of hydrogen.
“We didn’t expect to see this at all,” says Stas Barabash, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, who is the European Principal Investigator for SARA.
Although Barabash and his colleagues do not know what is causing the reflections, the discovery paves the way for a new type of image to be made. Unfortunately, since the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter is no longer functioning, new data can’t be taken. However, the team can work with data already collected to further study the process.
The hydrogen shoots off with speeds of around 200 km/s and escapes without being deflected by the Moon’s weak gravity. Hydrogen is also electrically neutral, and is not diverted by the magnetic fields in space. So the atoms fly in straight lines, just like photons of light. In principle, each atom can be traced back to its origin and an image of the surface can be made. The areas that emit most hydrogen will show up the brightest.
While the Moon does not generate a global magnetic field, some lunar rocks are magnetized. Barabash and his team are currently creating images from collected data, to look for such ‘magnetic anomalies’ in lunar rocks. These generate magnetic bubbles that deflect incoming protons away into surrounding regions making magnetic rocks appear dark in a hydrogen image.
The incoming protons are part of the solar wind, a constant stream of particles given off by the Sun. They collide with every celestial object in the Solar System but are usually stopped by the body’s atmosphere. On bodies without such a natural shield, for example asteroids or the planet Mercury, the solar wind reaches the ground. The SARA team expects that these objects too will reflect many of the incoming protons back into space as hydrogen atoms.
Scientists with the ESA’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury are hoping to study the interaction between charged particles and the surface of Mercury. The spacecraft will be carrying two similar instruments to SARA and may find that the inner-most planet is reflecting more hydrogen than the Moon because the solar wind is more concentrated closer to the Sun.
After giving up on re-establishing contact with the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman G. Madhavan Nair announced the space agency hopes to launch its first mission to Mars sometime between 2013 and 2015. Nair said the termination of Chandrayaan-1, although sad, is not a setback and India will move ahead with its plans for the Chandrayaan-2 mission to land an unmanned rover on the moon’s surface to prospect for chemicals, and in four to six years launch a robotic mission to Mars.
“We have given a call for proposal to different scientific communities,” Nair told reporters. “Depending on the type of experiments they propose, we will be able to plan the mission. The mission is at conceptual stage and will be taken up after Chandrayaan-2.”
On the decision to quickly pull the plug on Chandrayaan-1, Nair said, “There was no possibility of retrieving it. (But) it was a great success. We could collect a large volume of data, including more than 70,000 images of the moon. In that sense, 95 percent of the objective was completed.”
Contact with Chandrayaan-1 may have been lost because its antenna rotated out of direct contact with Earth, ISRO officials said. Earlier this year, the spacecraft lost both its primary and back-up star sensors, which use the positions of stars to orient the spacecraft.
The loss of Chandrayaan-1 comes less than a week after the spacecraft’s orbit was adjusted to team up with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for a Bi-static radar experiment. During the maneuver, Chandrayaan-1 fired its radar beam into Erlanger Crater on the moon’s north pole. Both spacecraft listened for echoes that might indicate the presence of water ice – a precious resource for future lunar explorers. The results of that experiment have not yet been released.
Chandrayaan-1 craft was designed to orbit the moon for two years, but lasted 315 days. It will take about 1,000 days until it crashes to the lunar surface and is being tracked by the U.S. and Russia, ISRO said.
The Chandrayaan I had 11 payloads, including a terrain-mapping camera designed to create a three-dimensional atlas of the moon. It is also carrying mapping instruments for the European Space Agency, radiation-measuring equipment for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and two devices for NASA, including the radar instrument to assess mineral composition and look for ice deposits. India launched its first rocket in 1963 and first satellite in 1975. The country’s satellite program is one of the largest communication systems in the world.
India’s lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 lost contact with ISRO’s ground station early on August 29. “We are not able to establish contact with the spacecraft. We are not getting the data, we are not able to send commands,” an ISRO official told the Press Trust of India. “In simple terms, the spacecraft has become dumb. It can’t speak.” The 11 scientific payloads onboard the orbiter had been operating normally, and the spacecraft was sending data during a planned sequence to its ground station when contact was lost. Officials are now analyzing data obtained, hoping to find any indications of what could have happened.
Chandrayaan 1 and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter teamed up on August 20 to perform a bi-static radar experiment, and although no results have been released yet, the data had been successfully returned from the test.
Chandrayaan-1 was launched October 22, 2008, reaching the moon in early November. It has made over 3,000 orbits and its high-resolution cameras relayed over 70,000 digital images of the lunar surface, providing breathtaking views of mountains and craters, including those in the permanently shadowed area of the moon’s polar region.
The Times Now website is reporting that the mission is over, with a quote from Project Director of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, M Annadurai: “The mission is definitely over. We have lost contact with the spacecraft.”
He added “It has done its job technically…100 per cent. Scientifically also, it has done almost 90-95 percent of its job.”
But as of this writing it has only been about 18 hours since contact was lost. We’ll keep you posted on further news on Chandrayaan-1