New York: The successful launch of Chandrayaan-1 from Sriharikota earlier this morning is being hailed not just as India's big leap into the space, but also as a step that is significant for the American space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Chandrayaan-1 is carrying on board two instruments from NASA that will map the lunar surface. The mission has been termed as NASA's 'return to moon'. The progress of the mission as Chandrayaan-1 makes its way to its final orbit 100 kilometres above the moon's surface is being closely monitored by NASA scientists as well, from a primary location at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. The laboratory has been established NASA's ground tracking station where a team of NASA scientists are keeping a watch on the Indian lunar mission.
In a statement prior to Chandrayan-1's lift-off, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that the opportunity to fly NASA instruments aboard Chandrayaan-1 ''undoubtedly will lead to important scientific discoveries." He termed the collaboration with Indian space agency ISRO as an ''exciting collaboration that represents an important next step in what we hope to be a long and mutually beneficial relationship with India in future civil space."
Collaboration on space programmes is being seen as an added area of strength for cooperation between the two countries. NASA officials are optimistic that with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal in place, Indo-US cooperation in Chandrayan-1 could be the start of a long-term permanent relationship between scientists of both countries.
NASA has two science instruments aboard Chandrayaan-1, and is also supporting India's lunar mission by providing space communications support.
NASA has put two scientific instruments aboard Chandrayan-1. The first is a Moon Mineralogy Mapper that will assess mineral resources, and the second is a Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar, better known as Mini-SAR that will map the Polar Regions and look for ice deposits.
NASA's statement said that data from its two instruments will contribute to NASA's increased understanding of the lunar environment as it implements the nation's space exploration policy. The US' space exploration policy calls for robotic and human missions to the moon, NASA said.
ISRO expects to complete the main objectives of the lunar mission almost a year ahead of schedule, freeing up space time for Chandrayaan-1 to do additional work.
The Indian space agency's collaboration with NASA has resulted in a crashed time frame that allows most of the objectives of the lunar mission to be completed ahead of the original schedule.
The ISRO – NASA partnership allows ISRO to utilise three deep space complexes, in California, Spain, and Australia, to receive scientific data 24x7 from Chandrayaan-1, at no additional cost. Reports suggest that NASA usually charges around $25,000 an hour for receiving data from space missions not carrying its instruments. Chandrayaan-1 has a payload of 11 instruments, of which two belong to NASA.
Chandrayaan-1 can store data onboard for more than a day, before it beams it to Earth. ISRO's own deep space network located on the outskirts of Bangalore is capable of receiving data for only around 12 hours in a day, when the spacecraft faces the subcontinent. Access to NASA's three deep space complexes will allow ISRO to process information faster as share it with the scientific community. India's scientists had originally drawn up plans for two years for the Chandrayaan-1 mission. Since it would receive data round the clock, ISRO will share the data with NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and will make the data public within a year of completing the mission.
Cooperation amongst foreign space agencies is needed to reduce cost of space mission, and reduce the time of specific missions to space.
The Chandrayaan-1 mission costs a total of Rs386 crore, which includes the Rs100 crore the ISRO had spent on setting up the 32-metre antenna for the deep-space network. This amount would be re-used in future space missions.
The Indian lunar mission costs almost a third of the Chinese Chang'e-1 lunar mission and around a sixth of the Japanese Selene moon mission last year.
Reports quoted a cost benefit analysis of India's space programme done by Annadurai Ulaganathan Sankar, professor at the Madras School of Economics as showing the India's lower cost of space missions accrue from the low cost of technically qualified manpower and the higher degree of domestically developed systems and components in space activities.
ISRO's PSLV launch vehicle and remote sensing satellites cost 30 per cent lesser than launch vehicles and satellites built by NASA or the ESA.