Indian Defence News [View All Articles]

India vs China: How their space programmes are matching up

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) had a setback this weekend with the space agency confirming it had lost contact with GSAT-6A, a mega communication satellite that was to provide mobile communications to both civilians and the armed forces. Despite the stumbling block, the space agency will continue with its upcoming launches although a massive quality assurance drive is likely to take place.

Meanwhile, China, too, is going full steam ahead. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, plans for the country's "space dream", as he calls it, have been put into overdrive. The country is looking to finally catch up with the United States and Russia after years of belatedly matching their space milestones.

For India, the failure to communicate with the GSAT-6a satellite is significant, however, the space agency hasn't given up all hope. Isro chairman, Dr K Sivan, said efforts are currently under way to establish contact with the satellite. Scientists said a power system malfunction rendered the satellite incommunicado. The cause of this ‘failure’ is still to be determined.

“We are hopeful, but as of now there is no contact with the satellite. If we are just able to speak with the satellite, we can get it back to working as there are several redundancy mechanisms including back-up power,” Isro's chief said.


How ISRO lost contact ::

Four minutes after executing the second orbit-raising operation, Isro’s Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan lost all contact with GSAT-6A.

At 9.22am on Friday, the first orbit raising operation changed the apogee and perigee height to 36,412km and 5,054km, respectively. MCF gave the command to fire the LAM engine for the second orbit raising operation at 9.51am on Saturday. The satellite executed it and the engine fired for 53 minutes and 54 seconds. Soon after, it communicated back, the signals riding electromagnetic waves and covering a distance of 36,000km to reach the ground station within a fraction of a second. Then, all went blank.

Describing what transpired after the second orbit raising operations, the Isro chief said, “Everything went on as prescribed, a picture-perfect launch and two textbook orbit raising manoeuvres and then the satellite suddenly stopped communication. We are yet to determine what exactly went wrong.”

"After the successful launch of Gsat-6A from Sriharikota on Thursday, Isro was supposed to perform three orbit-raising manoeuvres to take the satellite from the launch orbit to the designated orbit (geo stationary orbit that is at the altitude of 36,000 km). The first manoeuvre was performed successfully on Thursday. The second orbit-raising exercise was performed on Saturday. As the Isro ground station was gearing up for the third manoeuvre, the communication link with the satellite snapped," Dr Sivan elaborated.

Orbit-raising means manoeuvring a satellite in space in stages in order to place it in its final orbit with the help of small thrusters.

K Sivan said Isro was trying to establish contact with the advanced communication satellite. “When there are power fluctuations, the satellite goes into a safe mode with all communication lost. This is not unusual.” “However, that has not happened this time,” Sivan told TOI, adding Isro was “still hopeful of regaining control.”

“If we are just able to speak with the satellite, we can get it back to working as there are several redundancy mechanisms including backup power. But everything hinges on reestablishing contact, ” Dr Sivan added.

Sivan said scientists were even trying to send non-command messages to see if the satellite responded. But the agency has not seen any success yet.


Second failure in seven months ::

Given that this is the second major technical issue faced by the agency — a PSLV heat shield separation failure prevented indigenous backup navigation satellite IRNSS-1H from reaching the orbit in August 2017— in seven months, there is expected to be a renewed emphasis on processes.

The mission to launch IRNSS-1H on board PSLV-C39 ended in failure in August last year after the satellite got stuck in the heat shield. The PSLV-C39 took the satellite to orbit but the heat shield tip or the rocket inside which the satellite is housed did not open. It was scheduled to open 3 minutes and 23 seconds into the flight of the rocket.

IRNSS-1H, the eighth in the NavIC constellation, was to replace IRNSS-1A, the first satellite in the constellation whose rubidium atomic clocks had stopped functioning. The clocks are a critical component in providing accurate locational data. The atomic clocks in IRNSS-1A stopped due to issues in critical factors like temperature, rubidium bulb that produce light and electronic power supply.

The navsat stuck in the heat shield, now declared space debris, is still roaming in the near-earth orbit and will ultimately fall on the earth.


India vs China: Lower costs may work in our favour ::

Notwithstanding these setbacks, India and China are challenging US and Russian dominance in exploration, the commercial space sector and in the use of space for military purposes.

The Modi government has been promoting the domestic space programme as a demonstration of India's low-cost technology and reliable launches. Last February, Isro launched 104 satellites in a single mission, most of them for foreign customers -- setting a record when it launched these satellites on a single rocket, only three of which were Indian. With lower costs for launches, India can thus get ahead of competition from the US and China.

And it's not just the lower costs, India is preferred for another reason as well. Owing to security concerns, China is often a less attractive option for private companies than India.

In this backdrop, the government is ramping up the country's space programme, which has a budget of around $4 billion, hoping it will improve the country's prospects of winning a larger share of the more than $300 billion global space industry.

And while India's space programme has made significant progress, the Chandrayaan-1 mission that was launched in 2008 and India's Mar mission Mangalyaan in 2013 are particularly key milestones in India's space history.

Lunar mission Chandrayaan-1, costing 3.86 billion rupees, was much cheaper than the spacecraft launched by Asian rival China, whose first lunar probe cost over $187 million when it launched in October 2007.

Mangalyaan which is currently orbiting Mars is another feather in the cap for Isro, making it only the fourth space agency, after those in the US, Europe and Russia, to have successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars. In 2011, a Chinese attempt to send a spacecraft named Yinghou-1 to Mars was aborted because of a technical problem. The Indian space agency then fast-tracked its Mangalyaan mission readying it in just 15 months.


ISRO's upcoming launches ::

Meanwhile, the Isro chief has said the upcoming launches of navigation satellite IRNSS-1I and Chandrayaan-2mission will go ahead as per schedule. IRNSS-1I, likely to be launched in April, will replace the faulty first navsat IRNSS-1A, part of the Indian navigation system or NavIC or desi GPS. The three atomic clocks of the IRNSS-1A that were meant to provide precise location data had stopped working two years ago. Since the 2017 launch of navsat IRNSS-1H to replace the faulty satellite was unsuccessful, IRNSS-1I is, therefore, being launched to replace the first navsat. Currently, there are seven navsats in the orbit covering India and a region extending 1,500 km around it that provide real-time positioning and timing services.

Work is also on in full swing for the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Prior to the launch of the GSAT-6A satellite, the Isro chairman, referring to the lunar mission, remarked, “Preparations for the mission are in full swing. All the required tests are going on. The right time to launch the mission comes only once in a month. Therefore, we are hoping to launch it at the right time in April.”

He went on to add, “As Isro is launching such a complicated mission involving an orbiter, lander and a rover for the first time, we have to take extra precautions. If due to some glitch we are not able to launch in April, then we will try to launch the mission in October-November. If we launch the mission in between, we won’t get maximum benefit due to eclipses. To utilise the full lunar day (14 Earth days) for the moon exploration, the best time to launch the mission after April will be after October.”

According to recent reports, the launch will take place in the latter half of the year.


China’s space dream: How it began and where it is headed ::

While Isro is powering on with its upcoming launches, Beijing is continuing with ambitious plans for its space programme. The country has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, which have lost spacecraft, astronauts and cosmonauts over the decades. China's "taikonauts" have fared better and Beijing sees its military-run space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might, according to an AFP report.


Key highlights of China's space story ::

* Soon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, China Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced "We too will make satellites."

* However it took more than a decade - in 1970 - when China's first satellite lifted into space on the back of a Long March rocket.

* Human space flight took decades longer, with the first successful mission coming in 2003. The mission was successful with Yang orbiting the Earth 14 times during his 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5.

* Since then China has sent men and women into space with increasing regularity.

* Following in the footsteps of the US and Russia, China is striving to open a space station circling our planet.

* The Tiangong-1 was shot into orbit in September 2011. This space lab plunged back to Earth on April 1, 2018.

* In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video class from inside the space module beamed back to children across the world's most populous country. The lab was also used for medical experiments and, most importantly, tests intended to prepare for the building of a space station.

* The lab was followed by the "Jade Rabbit" lunar rover in 2013 which looked at first like a dud when it turned dormant and stopped sending signals back to Earth. The rover made a dramatic recovery, though, ultimately surveying the moon's surface for 31 months, well beyond its expected lifespan.

* In 2016, China launched its second station, the Tiangong-2 lab into orbit 393 kilometres (244 miles) above Earth, in what analysts say will likely serve as a final building block before China launches a manned space station. Astronauts who have visited the station have run experiments on growing rice and thale cress and docking spacecraft.

* China plans to have a space station of its own, slated to begin assembling pieces in space in 2020 with manned use to start around 2022 -- China was deliberately left out of the International Space Station effort.

* China is also planning to build a base on the moon, the state-run Global Times said in early March, citing the Communist Party chief of the China Academy of Space Technology. The outpost will initially be controlled by artificial intelligence robots until humans are sent to occasionally manage it, the official said.

* But lunar work was dealt a setback last year when the Long March-5 Y2, a powerful heavy-lift rocket, failed to launch in July on a mission to send communication satellites into orbit. The failure forced the postponement of the launch of lunar probe Chang'e-5, originally scheduled to collect moon samples in the second half of 2017.

* The official Xinhua news agency quoted a China Lunar Exploration Programme designer as saying last week that the Chang'e 5 is now slated to land in 2019 and then bring back moon samples to Earth.

* Another robot, the Chang'e-4, is still due to land in 2018 for the "first-ever soft landing and roving survey on the far side of the moon", said Zuo Wei, deputy chief designer of the CLEP Ground Application System.

* China's astronauts and scientists have also talked up manned missions to Mars as it strives to become a "global space power". (Source: AFP)


What happened to China’s defunct space lab ::

China's defunct Tiangong 1 space station plunged back to Earth and mostly burned up on re-entry on Monday into the atmosphere over the central South Pacific, Chinese space authorities said.

The experimental space laboratory re-entered around 8:15 a.m. Beijing time, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.Scientists monitoring the craft's disintegrating orbit had forecast the craft would mostly burn up and would pose only the slightest of risks to people. Analysis from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center showed it had mostly burned up.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University, said Tiangong 1's re-entry was “mostly successful” and that it would have been better if the space station had not been spinning toward Earth, AP reported.

“It could have been better obviously, if it wasn't tumbling, but it landed in the Southern Pacific Ocean and that's kind of where you hope it would land,” Tucker said.

Defence News Poll
Should India recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital?


  
View Result  |  Archive