They are cutely named - some even remind you of the mythical Apsaras. But names can be happily deceiving. Here they signify some of the most intricate scientific instruments developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). So, after SARA and MENCA - that’s an approximation of ‘Menaka’ - it’s now the turn of RAMBHA and PAPA. With ISRO lining up two big space missions, the Space Physics Laboratory (SPL) at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thumba is quite a busy place.
SPL is developing scientific payloads for both Chandrayaan-2, moon mission, and Aditya, India’s attempt to take a closer peek at the sun. SARA and MENCA were the SPL payloads aboard the 2008 Chandrayaan-1 and the 2014 Mars mission. SPL will have three payloads on Chandrayaan-2. For Aditya, the lab is coming up with one payload, SPL director Anil Bhardwaj said. “We have one payload planned on the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter and two on the lander,” Bhardwaj told Express. On the orbiter, SPL has CHACE-2 (short for Chandra’s Atmospheric Composition Explorer-2. CHACE-1 was part of the first moon mission). It will study the composition of the lunar exosphere. “Moon does not have an atmosphere like the earth. But it has a very tenuous atmosphere ‘exosphere.’ It belongs to a unique class of atmospheres in our solar system,” he said.
The lander will have ChaSTE (Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment) and RAMBHA (Radio Anatomy of Moon-Bound Hyper Atmosphere and Ionosphere). “ChaSTE will pierce 10 cm into the lunar surface to study temperature distribution. Since we are landing close to the polar regions, it will also be the first to study this aspect in that location,” said Bhardwaj, who recently won the Infosys prize for contributions to planetary and space sciences. “RAMBHA is like, ‘Urvasi, Menaka and Rambha,” he said. It will scan the plasma environment above the moon. On Aditya, which ISRO hopes to launch by 2020, SPL will have PAPA (Plasma Analyser Package for Aditya). It will study solar wind and its energy distribution. SPL had developed Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyser (SARA) - with Swedish collaboration - and CHACE-1 for Chandrayaan-1 and Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser - MENCA - for the Mars Orbiter Mission.