Up, up & away: Kolkata joins the lunar journey | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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Up, up & away: Kolkata joins the lunar journey

For the first time in the history of the country’s space programme, an instrument designed and built by a team of scientists from Kolkata would be landing on the moon’s surface in January 2018.

kolkata Updated: Dec 26, 2016 10:02 IST
Joydeep Thakur
S K Chakrabarti (second from right) with ISRO and Team Indus officials in Bengaluru with the model of the payload to be sent to the moon. Behind them is the model of the lunar lander.
S K Chakrabarti (second from right) with ISRO and Team Indus officials in Bengaluru with the model of the payload to be sent to the moon. Behind them is the model of the lunar lander.(HT Photo)

For the first time in the history of the country’s space programme, an instrument designed and built by a team of scientists from Kolkata would be landing on the moon’s surface in January 2018. It would be piggy-riding on the same mission that is planning to unfurl the Indian tricolor on the lunar surface on January 26, 2018 when the country celebrates its 69th Republic Day.

“The four-kg payload would be installed atop a lunar lander that a Bengaluru-based private company Team Indus is planning to send to the moon in December 2017. We have signed a deal with Team Indus. The country’s trusted Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) engineered by India’s space agency ISRO would be carrying the lander and at least two rovers to the moon,” said Sandip Kumar Chakrabarti, who also heads the Indian Centre for Space Physics in Kolkata.

The ‘engineering model’ would have to be handed over to the company by March 2017. It would be subjected to a series of tests to check whether the instrument can withstand extreme temperature, pressure and vacuum conditions. The final ’flight model’ would be made ready and handed over by June 2017. The take-off is scheduled in December 2017.

Fitted with an X-ray detector and four in-built computers among other complex parts, the instrument would be studying the outer space, including Black Holes, Gamma Ray bursts, Neutron stars and the sun from the moon’s surface. “Never in the past had any instrument studied the outer space from the lunar surface. They were all engaged in inspecting the moon’s surface. This includes India’s first lunar probe Chandrayan-I which was focused on chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the moon,” said Chakrabarti, who is heading the six member team at ICSP.

It would take around a week for the Team Indus lander to reach the moon after it is launched. Scientists hope to start extracting data within a day or two after it touches the moon’s surface.

“Once it lands in the ‘Mare Imbrium’ area --- a vast lava plain on the moon’s surface --- we would have to wait for at least a day or two for health check-up of the instrument --- the temperature and pressure among other parameters. We also need to allow the moon’s dust --- regolith --- to settle down before we can switch on the instrument and downlink data,” said Chakrabarti, who also heads the astrophysics department at SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences in Salt Lake.

Scientists said that as one lunar day is equal to 28 days on earth, they expect to get a longer and continuous exposure of the outer space which was otherwise impossible from earth-based satellites. “Satellites orbiting the earth can only give us chinks of data from outer space that last for around 40 minutes. But if we inspect the space from moon’s surface we expect continuous data for more than 42 hours at a time. This would help us to monitor the subtle changes which have been missing till date,” Chakrabarti said.

Chakrabarti and his team had sent a payload to space on a Russian satellite some five years back. The team has already sent balloons with pay loads to the outer reaches of the atmosphere more than a 100 times.