By Dr. Gary Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Military University
This article is the fourth of a five-part series profiling the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). This series looks at the past, present, and future of ISRO and why the global space exploration community should keep an eye on this rising star. In this fourth article, we’ll look at some of the major accomplishments of ISRO over the last decade and where India seeks to go next.
The 2010s were huge for ISRO. In total, it launched 56 missions, and of those, only three succumbed to launch failure, maintaining the launch success rate for India at about 95 percent. GSAT-4, GSAT-5P and IRNSS-1H never reached orbit due to various launch vehicle failures.
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Most of the focus for ISRO’s space missions during those years was still on communications and Earth observation research. To these routine missions, ISRO added a constellation of navigation satellites, tests for manned missions, a new space observatory, and several more lunar and planetary missions that pushed the boundaries of ISRO’s exploratory capabilities.
For navigation, ISRO launched a total of nine satellites in the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation, from IRNSS-1A in 2013 through IRNSS-1I in 2018. These new missions brought dedicated satellite navigation network abilities to Indian society for the first time.
India’s Mangalyaan Satellite Orbits Mars
The next major leap in Indian space exploration achievement was Mangalyaan, also known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). Mangalyaan was launched in 2013 and it reached Martian orbit about 10 months later in 2014.
With Mangalyaan, India became the fourth national space agency to send a mission to Mars, but the first nation to do it successfully on the first attempt. Also, the cost of the Mangalyaan mission was just $73 million USD, which is to date the least expensive Mars mission ever.
Mangalyaan was first and foremost a proof-of-concept mission, demonstrating that ISRO’s technologies were capable of making it to other worlds safely and reliably. However, the probe was also equipped with five different scientific instruments for a variety of different research objectives. This equipment included photometers, methane sensors, atmospheric analyzers, spectrometers and high-resolution cameras.
ISRO planned for the Mangalyaan mission to last only six months, but it has been in operation for more than five years so far. Mission operators believe there is enough fuel left for at least one more year of science and research.
Testing a New Crew Capsule, a Space Telescope and an Updated Lunar Probe
In 2014, ISRO launched the Crew module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE), which tested a crew capsule that ISRO had designed for future manned missions. The launch and re-entry test was successful, and this achievement sets the stage for India’s first self-contained manned missions in the future.
A year later in 2015, India launched its first-ever space observatory with ASTROSAT. ASTROSAT is a space telescope platform with a variety of different instruments onboard for adaptability in mission criteria.
What makes ASTROSAT unique is that it is capable of observing distant cosmic objects in many different wavelengths of light at the same time. ASTROSAT can observe objects in visible, ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths simultaneously, making ASTROSAT a particularly potent tool in modern-day astronomical research.
In 2019, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-2, the follow-up to the original Chandrayaan space probe. Like its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2 was a lunar probe with a number of scientific instruments onboard.
However, in addition to the orbiter, Chandrayaan-2 was equipped with a lander and a rover to touch down on the lunar surface in order to conduct more experiments and research in situ. In September 2019, ISRO mission controllers deployed the lander/rover module from the orbiter, but unfortunately they lost contact with it when it was on its way down to the lunar surface. Communication with the module was never regained.
Although the lander component was an unfortunate loss, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is still in healthy operation today. It sports one of the highest resolution cameras ever dispatched to the Moon, so the images it collects and sends back still hold a lot of value for lunar research. ISRO expects the orbiter to remain operational for about seven years.
Assisting Other Launches and Missions
Over the years, ISRO has supported the launch of 10 student satellite missions. Also, it has assisted in various capacities with 319 other satellite missions for 33 different countries around the world.
ISRO has no plans of stopping anytime soon, either. It has already begun planning for several major missions to be tackled in the 2020s:
- In 2020, ISRO plans to launch Aditya-1, a solar research telescope to study the Sun from an orbit about 1.5 million miles from Earth.
- In 2021, ISRO is scheduled to complete its first manned mission with a three-week orbit of Indian astronauts inside a capsule launched by the GSLV Mk III. In the same year, ISRO plans to launch the X-Ray Polarimeter Satellite to help researchers understand x-ray emissions from different celestial bodies.
- In 2023, ISRO will launch Mission Venus, a space probe to orbit Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor and study its history and atmospheric dynamics. Also in 2023, ISRO is scheduled to partner with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to send a rover to the Moon’s south pole. This rover can drill into the Moon’s surface and analyze its composition.
- In 2024, ISRO intends to return to Mars with Mangalyaan-2. This time, there are rumors it plans to include a lander and rover, similar to Chandrayaan-2, but hopefully with a better result.
- In 2025, ISRO aims to launch ASTROSAT-2, a follow-up to the original mission. But this time, ASTROSAT-2 will carry scientific instruments to study the origins of the universe.
- Finally, ISRO aims to launch its own space station around 2025.
In the fifth and final installment of this article series, we’ll look at ISRO’s vision for the future as well as potential challenges it may encounter along the way.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Military University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Military University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.