K Radhakrishnan interview: Success due to tireless efforts of Isro

  • Vanita Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 24, 2014 11:27 IST

Proud Isro chairman, K Radhakrishnan talks about the Mars mission, the challenges and Isro's upcoming projects.

1. What has been the greatest challenge for you in the Mars mission?
Being the first Indian mission to the planet Mars, the most formidable challenge was to realise a Mars Orbiter spacecraft with indigenous payloads, in an exceptionally short span of about 15 months. There were many technological challenges like providing augmented shielding to the spacecraft for harsh thermal and radiation conditions; building onboard autonomy within Orbiter to deal with long communication delays and handle contingency situations; reliability of propulsion system to work again after 300 days voyage and so on. Besides these, challenges were also associated with performing Earth bound manoeuvres and trans-Mars injection manoeuvre for escaping the Earth's sphere of influence.

2. How were you able to complete the Mission in such a small time and low budget?
Isro's general philosophy is cost-effectiveness. We always adopt modular approach which gives us cost advantage, it means we take the base of our earlier proven technology and we build on it. We utilised the available hardware to realise the spacecraft and used our workhorse launch vehicle PSLV, with minimum modifications. We kept the expensive ground test to small number, while extracting best out of each test. Moreover, our scientists and engineers always strive for schedule-driven approach, which prevents cost over runs. Being time effective makes us cost effective.

3. At any stage of the Mangalyaan's journey, did it occur to you that something may go wrong?
World over, any space mission has its associated complexities and risks. The nature of spaceflight is such that one comes across many uncertainties and unexpected challenges during different phases of a mission. During this mission, we did have few moments of anxiety, which we could overcome without having any impact on the mission.

4. Till when will the payloads function? What will be the main function of the payloads?
Our primary concern is to send a spacecraft from Earth to Mars with the least amount of fuel possible and establish Indian technological capability to reach the Mars and orbit around it. However, it is planned to undertake few scientific studies during the orbital life of the spacecraft, which primarily depends upon the amount of fuel available in the spacecraft tank (now).
The five payloads onboard Mars Orbiter would help to study the Mars surface features, constituents of Martian atmosphere like methane, dynamics of upper atmosphere of Mars escape process of water from the planet.etc.

5. The passage of a comet, Siding Spring, will be first astronomical event that Mangalyaan will encounter. The comet is scheduled to fly past the red planet on October 19. Can it pose a potential threat to the survival of the orbiter?
There are many uncertainties associated with comets, including comet Siding Spring, especially as to precisely where it will pass near Mars as well as the nature of the comet and its impact. In the coming days, such information will get more refined, as more observations are conducted and further analysis is carried out. At present, it is difficult to say with a degree of certainty about any potential threat posed by comet Siding Spring to Mars Orbiter Spacecraft.

6. Who would you like to dedicate the success of Mars Mission to?
The success of all Indian space missions is due to the tireless efforts of ISRO's team. The credit of success of all the critical phases of Mars Mission, achieved so far goes to each and every member of ISRO family. But for now, our focus is on the successful realisation of orbiting our spacecraft around the Red Planet.

7. When will Chandrayaan-2 be launched?
Chandrayaan-2 mission will be totally an Indian mission, configured with an Orbiter, Lander and Rover for in-situ investigation of the lunar surface. A six wheel Rover has been realised and initial tests have been conducted in the lunar terrain test facility. Besides, the development of Indian Lander involves many new technologies in the areas of navigation, control and guidance, sensors, soft landing and so on. Based on the present assessment of the progress, we may be in a position to launch it in 2016-2017 timeframe.

8. What is the next major project of ISRO?
Our next major endeavor is to conduct the experimental mission of India's next generation launch vehicle GSLV MkIII, which is capable of delivering 4 ton class of satellites to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. The experimental mission of GSLV MkIII, with passive Cryogenic stage, is to qualify the atmospheric phase of flight of the launch vehicle. In this flight, only the core rocket stage burning liquid propellants as well as the two solid boosters will be tested, while the upper cryogenic stage will remain passive.

9.Why was there such a rush for the Mars mission? Are you competing with any other country?
Earth and Mars, based on their orbital geometry, come closer to each other in every 26 months so we had to capitalise at the earliest possible opportunity. If we missed this, we would have to wait for the next opportunity. We are certainly not competing with any country.

10. What kind of support was given by NASA to the mission?
We have to continuously track the spacecraft. Besides our own ground station at Byalalu, near Bangalore, we took the support of NASA's jet propulsion lab's deep space network and its three international ground stations at Goldstone, Madrid and Canberra.

11. What about your plans for a manned mission?
While we are yet to take up a human spaceflight mission, we have progressed in technological areas such as crew module, crew-escape system, environment control and life-support system, space suit, re-entry and recovery techniques. Safety and reliability are important.

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