Due to Wuhan panic, India might launch no rockets in 2020

The new colonial movement: Due to Wuhan panic, it is now possible that India’s space agency ISRO will launch no rockets in 2020, delaying all until 2021.

ISRO’s launch calendar has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, and there has been no launch from its spaceport, Sriharikota, this year. In fact, the only ISRO launch this year was G-SAT 30, but it was carried by a French rocket, Ariane, which took off from French Guiana on January 17. Although officials confirm that there may be around three to four launches before the year is over, they admit that the deadlines of several launches planned for the latter half of this year may slip into the next calendar year. This could have a cascading effect on the next year’s plans, too.

The article outlines in detail the status of many of India’s space projects, all of which seem stymied by the lock down restrictions that have been imposed. It also notes how other countries, such as China and the U.S., have not allowed the epidemic to shut them down as drastically.

India had hoped to complete a record twelve launches in 2020.

Russia wins spacesuit contract for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission

The new colonial movement: The Russian Zvezda design center in Roscosmos has won the spacesuit contract to build the spacesuits and capsule seats for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission, targeted for a ’22 launch.

It is not surprising that the Russians won this contract. India does not have a lot of time to get the mission off the ground, and needs help. The Russian spacesuits are practical and proven, and are far superior to anything available from NASA. The only other option available at this moment would be the flight suits SpaceX designed for its Dragon missions and flown once. I suspect the Indians want something that has been used and tested more.

Moreover, their astronauts are being trained by the Russians. Better and simpler to have them use the suits the Russians use.

India sets early 2021 for launch of lunar lander/rover

The new colonial movement: Chandrayaan-3, India’s second attempt to put a lander/rover near the south pole of the Moon, has been rescheduled for launch in early 2021, delayed approximately six months due to the Wuhan flu panic.

The mission has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and the follow-up lockdowns. The launch which was planned for 2020 will now take off for the Lunar surface sometime in early 2021.

Chandrayaan-3 will be a mission repeat of Chandrayaan-2 and will include a Lander and Rover similar to that of Chandrayaan-2, but will not have an orbiter, a statement quoting Singh said. Planned to land on the South Pole of the Moon, Chandrayaan-2 was launched on July 22 last year. However, the lander Vikram hard-landed on September 7, crashing India’s dream to become the first nation to successfully touch down on the lunar surface in its maiden attempt.

The orbiter of the mission is working fine and has been sending data, ISRO had indicated that the third moon mission will utilise the orbiter already in the lunar orbit.

India has literally ceased all launches in 2020, since the arrival of the coronavirus. Moreover, though four launches are listed as targeting September launches, none yet have launch dates. It seems that the fear and terror of COVID-19 has caused India’s large space bureaucracy to shut down, even as I am sure they continue to receive their paychecks.

India to give private space access to ISRO facilities

The new colonial movement: India’s government has announced that private commercial space companies will be given full and equal access to the facilities operated by its space agency, ISRO.

The private sector will be allowed to use ISRO’s facilities and assets and they will be provided a level-playing field in satellites, launches and space-based services, Union Minister Jitendra Singh said on Tuesday, days after the government announced opening up of the domain.

Future projects for planetary exploration and outer space travel will be open for the private sector, he added. ‘Private companies to be provided a level-playing field in satellites, launches and space-based services. Future projects for planetary exploration, outer space travel will be open for the private sector,’ he said in a statement.

If true, what this means is that if a private company builds its own rocket, it will be allowed to use ISRO’s launchpads to launch from. It also means that the government does not want ISRO to lord over those private companies.

Whether this will happen as intended however remains a question. In essence this is the same turf war between the private sector and a government-run industry that has been playing out in the U.S. Here, the private sector appears to be winning, mostly because of the effort of SpaceX. I am not sure what will happen in India, as they don’t yet have any companies like SpaceX to push the issue.

Big budget cut for India’s manned space program

India’s manned space program has received a 70% cut in funding in that country’s most recent budget, according to one news story from India.

From the first link:

The human spaceflight program of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), called Gaganyaan, received only about 30% of the funds sought by the according to the Times of India. ISRO said it will find a way around the low budget, but details were not provided in the news report.

The plan has been to launch a unmanned mission late this year or early next year, with the 5-to-7-day manned mission to occur one year later.

Based on the article from India, it appears to me that these cuts are part of the negotiation process for determining ISRO’s budget, and are not yet firm. It also appears that the government is experiencing sticker shock. It wants a manned mission, but when it was told what it would cost it balked.

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to fly the manned mission by 2022 with these cuts. The Modi government will either have to decide to spend the money, or significantly delay its human spaceflight effort.

India releases Vikram failure report

India’s space agency ISRO has released its investigation report on the failure of its lunar lander Vikram on September 7, 2019 to soft land on the Moon.

The Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander ended up spinning over 410 degrees, deviating from a calibrated spin of 55 degrees, and making a hard landing on the moon, according to ISRO scientists. The anomaly, which occurred during the second of four phases of the landing process, was reflected in the computer systems in the mission control room, but ISRO scientists could not intervene to correct it as the lander was on autonomous mode, using data already fed into its system before the start of the powered descent.

According to the report, they are using what was learned to incorporate changes in Chandrayaan-3, their next attempt at putting a lander and rover on the Moon, presently scheduled to launch 14 to 16 months from now. That launch date, about six months later than previous reports, also seems more realistic. Initially the agency was saying it planned to launch Chandrayaan-3 in less than a year from project inception, by November 2020, a schedule that seemed rushed and ripe for mistakes.

India picks its first astronauts; confirms new lunar rover

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday confirmed that their plans to build and land a rover on the Moon in 2020, while also announcing that they have chosen the first four astronauts to train for their first manned mission in 2022.

He also confirmed that the land acquisition for a second launch site is proceeding.

The astronauts, whose identity has not been revealed, will be trained by Russia.

India aims for about a dozen launches in 2020

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO is targeting about about a dozen launches in 2020, including the first unmanned test flight of its manned capsule Gaganyaan, the first flight of its smallsat SSLV rocket, and the first test flights of a reusable rocket, the first stage landing vertically and the second stage returning like a space shuttle.

Of these I estimate about seven are orbital flights.

Based on the last few years, this prediction by ISRO is likely high. They tend to over-predict what they will accomplish each year. This isn’t necessarily bad, as it forces them to accelerate their work rather than allowing it to drag on endlessly.

India confirms details of Vikram’s crash on Moon

India’s government has finally officially admitted that its Vikram lunar lander crashed in September.

In a written answer to a question posed to the Department of Space in Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh said the “reduction in velocity” of the Vikram lander during the final phase of its descent on the moon’s surface “was more than the designed value”. As a result, Vikram “hard-landed” on the moon “within 500 metres of the designated landing site”, he said.

…“The first phase of descent was performed nominally from an altitude of 30 km to 7.4 km above the moon surface. The velocity was reduced from 1,683 m/s to 146 m/s. During the second phase of descent, the reduction in velocity was more than the designed value. Due to this deviation, the initial conditions at the start of the fine braking phase (final phase below 7.4 km altitude) were beyond the designed parameters. As a result, Vikram hard-landed within 500 m of the designated landing site,” the minister said in a written answer in the Lok Sabha.

Except for the detail that they think Vikram landed within 500 meters of its planned landing site, this answer really doesn’t tell us much new. It was very obvious during the landing that the spacecraft was traveling too fast as it began its final braking phase, and that it then descended much too fast thereafter.

In fact, the couched language and the unwillingness so far of ISRO, India’s space agency, to provide a detailed report on the failure does not reflect well on them. This kind of cutting edge engineering requires a hard kind of intellectual honesty. They have so far not shown that kind of honesty in their response to this failure.

India targets Nov 2020 for new lunar lander mission

The new colonial movement: Sources inside India’s space agency ISRO yesterday revealed that they are now working to build and fly another lunar lander/rover, dubbed Chandrayaan-3, with a target launch date of November 2020, only one year from now.

Isro has formed multiple committees — an overall panel and three sub-committees — and held at least four high-level meetings since October. The new mission will include only a lander and rover, as the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is functioning well. On Tuesday, the overview committee met with the agenda of reviewing the configuration of Chandrayaan-3. It also looked into the recommendations of various sub-committees on propulsion, sensors, overall engineering, navigation and guidance.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had provided the propulsion capabilities to get the Vikram lander (with rover) to lunar orbit earlier this year, only to have the lander fail shortly before touchdown. To do this new mission without an orbiter will require adding a propulsion unit to the rover/lander. They are also looking at strengthening the lander’s legs to better resist a high velocity landing.

Kudos to ISRO for moving so quickly. There is no reason a replacement lander/rover should take years to build. They already know what to do, they need only do it again, with upgrades designed to avoid the failure in September.

First images from Chandrayaan-2

One of Chandrayaan-2's first hi-res images
Click for the full image.

India has released the first image from the high resolution camera on its Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter.

The image on the right, cropped to post here, is from that image and shows objects as small as 10 inches across, which is better than the 20 inch resolution obtained by the U.S.’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Depending on orbit, they should therefore eventually be able to image their crashed Vikram lander with more detail. It also means they can supplement and improve on data from LRO, a significant achievement for India.

Additionally they report that all instruments on board are functioning normally.

LRO fails to spot Vikram on Moon

Despite successfully taking high resolution images of the area on the Moon where it is thought India’s Vikram crash-landed two weeks ago, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has been unable to identify it in those images.

LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera instrument, or LROC, imaged the intended south pole touchdown site for the lander, which is called Vikram, as planned yesterday (Sept. 17), Aviation Week’s Mark Carreau reported. But “long shadows in the area may be obscuring the silent lunar explorer,” Carreau wrote.

“It was near dusk as the region prepares to transition from a two-week lunar day to an equally long lunar night, so shadows covered much of the region, and Vikram may not be in the LROC’s field of view,” Carreau wrote, citing a NASA statement.

This means that they will simply have to try again during a later orbit. Eventually the lighting conditions will be right, and LRO will photograph Vikram.

LRO to image Vikram landing site next week

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team plans to take high resolution images of the Vikram landing site when the orbiter flies over that site on September 17, thus allowing them to release before and after images.

Noah Petro, LRO’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that the orbiter is due to fly over the Vikram landing site Tuesday, Sept. 17. “Per NASA policy, all LRO data are publicly available,” Petro wrote in an email. “NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organization.”

Officials with India’s space agency ISRO have said they have photographed Vikram with their orbiter, Chandrayaan-2, but they have not released these images as yet. Their have also been reports from India stating that their images suggest the lander is still in one piece, but these reports are not confirmed.

LRO’s images should clarify the situation. The images should also help tell us what exactly happened after Indian engineers lost contact with Vikram shortly before landing.

Chandrayaan-2 locates Vikram

According to K. Sivan, the head of ISRO, India’s space agency, their Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has captured a thermal image of Vikram on the lunar surface, pinpointing the lander’s location.

They have not released the image. According to reports today, they do not yet know the lander’s condition, and have not regained communications. Reports late yesterday had quoted K.Sivan as saying “It must have been a hard-landing.” That quote is not in today’s reports.

In watching the landing and the subsequent reports out of India, it appears that India is having trouble dealing with this failure. To give the worst example, I watched a television anchor fantasize, twenty minutes after contact had been lost, that the lander must merely be hovering above the surface looking for a nice place to land. Most of the reports are not as bad, but all seem to want to minimize the failure, to an extreme extent.

Their grief is understandable, because their hopes were so high. At the same time, you can’t succeed in this kind of challenging endeavor without an uncompromising intellectual honesty, which means you admit failure as quickly as possible, look hard at the failure to figure out why it happened, and then fix the problem. If India can get to that place it will be a sign that they are maturing as a nation. At the moment it appears they are not quite there.

Vikram fails to land on Moon

Vikram, India’s first attempt to soft land on the Moon, apparently has failed, with something apparently going wrong in the very last seconds before landing.

As I write this they have not officially announced anything, but the live feed shows a room of very unhappy people.

It is possible the lander made it and has not yet sent back word, but such a confirmation should not take this long.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was given a very short briefing by K. Sivan, head of ISRO, and then apparently left without comment. This I found an interesting contrast to the actions of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when its lunar lander Beresheet failed in landing earlier this year. Netanyahu came out to comfort the workers in mission control, congratulating them for getting as far as they had. Modi apparently simply left. UPDATE: Modi has reappeared to talk to the children who had won a contest to see the landing as well as people in mission control. After making a public statement he has now left.

They are now confirming that communications was lost at 2.1 kilometers altitude, which was just before landing. They are analyzing the data right now to figure out what went wrong.

Watch Vikram landing on Moon

Vikram's primary landing site

The new colonial movement: I have embedded below the live stream of India’s attempt today to land its Vikram lander on the Moon, broadcast by one of their national television networks.

The landing window is from 4:30 to 5:30 pm Eastern. This live stream is set to begin about 3 pm Eastern.

If you want to watch ISRO’s official live stream you can access it here.

Some interesting details: Vikram is named after Vikram A. Sarabhai, who many consider the founder of India’s space program. The lunar rover that will roll off of Vikram once landing is achieved is dubbed Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit. Both are designed to operate on the Moon for one lunar day.

The landing site will be about 375 miles from the south pole.

That spot is a highland that rises between two craters dubbed Manzinus C and Simpelius N. On a grid of the moon’s surface, it would fall at 70.9 degrees south latitude and 22.7 degrees east longitude.

The white cross on the image to the right is where I think this site is. The secondary landing site is indicated by the red cross.

Vikram makes second and last lunar orbital change

The new colonial movement: India’s Vikram lunar lander today made its second and last orbital change, preparing itself for landing on the Moon on September 7.

The orbit of Vikram Lander is 35 km x 101 km. Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter continues to orbit the Moon in an orbit of 96 km x 125 km and both the Orbiter and Lander are healthy.

With this maneuver the required orbit for the Vikram Lander to commence it descent towards the surface of the Moon is achieved. The Lander is scheduled to powered descent between 0100 – 0200 hrs IST on September 07, 2019, which is then followed by touch down of Lander between 0130 – 0230 hrs IST

They plan to roll the rover Pragyan off of Vikram about two hours after landing.

This article provides a nice overview of the mission.

Vikram completes first de-orbit burn

The new colonial movement: India’s Vikram lunar lander has successfully completed its first de-orbit engine burn, lasting 4 seconds, adjusting its orbit slightly in preparation for landing on the Moon on September 7.

They will do a second burn tomorrow, further adjusting the orbit.

Note that the update says that this burn was by Chandrayaan-2, but this must be a mistake. The Vikram lander separated from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter yesterday, and it is Vikram that is doing the orbital changes and will land on the Moon.

Vikram has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2

The new colonial movement: India’s lunar lander, Vikram, has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2, and is functioning nominally in lunar orbit.

The update describing this is the second update at the link, with the first detailing the arrangements for the press to cover the landing on September 7.

The lander carries the rover, dubbed Pragyan, which will roll off Vikram only a few hours after landing.

Chandrayaan-2 now in proper lunar orbit for release of lander/rover

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft today completed its fifth engine burn in lunar orbit, placing it in the correct orbit for releasing its lander/rover.

The next operation is the separation of Vikram Lander from Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter, which is scheduled on September 02, 2019, between 1245 – 1345 hrs (IST). Following this, there will be two deorbit maneuvers of Vikram Lander to prepare for its landing in the south polar region of the moon.

The landing itself is scheduled for September 7.

Chandrayaan-2 lowers lunar orbit for the 4th time

The new colonial movement: India’s orbiter/lander/rover Chandrayaan-2 today successfully lowered its lunar orbit for the 4th time, dropping it to 77 by 102 miles.

The next engine burn is for tomorrow, and should be followed by almost daily burns from here on out, until they reach the required orbit for sending the lander/rover to the surface on September 7.

More images from Chandrayaan-2

Moon image from Chandrayaan-2
Click for full image.

The Chandrayaan-2 engineering team has released more lunar images from Chandrayaan-2, this time from its higher resolution Terrain Mapping Camera 2.

One example is to the right, reduced to post here. It was taken from about 2,700 miles altitude, and shows a section of the northern hemisphere on the Moon’s heavily cratered far side. There are other images at the link.

The goal of these images is to demonstrate that the camera and spacecraft pointing systems are working. It appears they have done so successfully.

ISRO releases Chandrayaan-2’s first Moon image from lunar orbit

The Moon as seen by Chandrayaan-2

India’s space agency ISRO has released the first image taken by Chandrayaan-2 after entering orbit around the Moon.

That image is to the right, reduced to post here. It was taken from about 1,600 miles elevation, and shows mostly the far side of the Moon. The dark mare in the upper right is the Sea of Moscow, which is the only large mare on the far side.

This image once again proves the camera and the spacecraft’s ability to point it accurately are both functioning.

Chandrayaan-2 successfully enters lunar orbit

The head of ISRO today announced that, after completed a 29 minute engine burn, India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter/lander/rover has successfully entered the correct orbit around the Moon.

In his briefing, Dr. Sivan announced that “The LOI maneuver was performed successfully today morning using the onboard propulsion system for a firing duration of about 29 minutes. This maneuver precisely injected Chandrayaan-2 into an orbit around the Moon.” He emphasised the unique requirement of 90 degree orbital inclination of Chandrayaan-2 and said that it was achieved by the precise execution of both the Trans Lunar Injection (performed on August 14, 2019) and today’s LOI maneuver.

“The satellite is currently located in a lunar orbit with a distance of about 114 km at perilune (nearest point to the Moon) and 18,072 km at apolune (farthest point to the Moon)”, he added.

Over the next four lunar orbits they will execute four more engine burns to lower the spacecraft to the orbit needed to send the lander/rover to the surface on September 7 in the south polar region of the Moon between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N at about 71 degrees latitude.

India’s new smallsat rocket gets its first launch contract

The new colonial movement: India today signed its first customer for its new and still untested SSLV rocket, designed to provide orbital launch services for the burgeoning smallsat market.

Spaceflight announced Aug. 6 that it will purchase the first commercial launch a new Indian vehicle scheduled to make its debut later this year. Spaceflight said it will launch payloads for an undisclosed U.S. satellite constellation customer on a flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), a derivative of the existing, larger Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The launch is scheduled for later this year and will be the second for the SSLV after a demonstration launch expected no earlier than September.

While the companies didn’t announce the customer for the mission, a July 25 filing with the Federal Communications Commission by Earth imaging company BlackSky Global sought a license for four of its satellites it said would launch on the SSLV in November 2019. The applications said the satellites would be deployed into two orbital planes, consistent with Spaceflight’s announcement.

While this Indian rocket is hardly a private operation, it has no military component, as do the new Chinese smallsat companies. ISRO, India’s space agency, is wholly civilian with no apparent ties to its military, as far as I know. Its goal is to purely make money and grab market share.

At the same time, the use of government funds to develop this rocket gives India the same advantage that China’s smallsat companies have over the privately funded rockets from the U.S. It allows them to set lower prices and undercut the competition.

Chandrayaan-2 completes fifth orbital maneuver

Chandrayaan-2 has completed its fifth engine burn, raising the apogee of its Earth orbit to 142,975 kilometers.

The next engine burn, on August 14, will raise that apogee enough for the spacecraft to enter the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when they will then transfer into lunar orbit.

First images from Chandrayaan-2

Earth from Chandrayaan-2

India yesterday released the first images taken by its lunar orbiter/lander/rover Chandrayaan-2, taken from Earth orbit of the Earth.

The image on the right is one example, and was taken mostly for engineering purposes. All the images (available here) demonstrates that the spacecraft’s camera is working properly, and it can orient itself accurately.

They now hope to put the spacecraft into lunar orbit on August 20th, with the landing attempt set for September 7th, after they have lowered that lunar orbit sufficiently.

Chandrayaan-2 successfully completes 4th orbit burn

The new colonial movement: India’s lunar orbiter/lander/rover Chandrayaan-2 today successfully completed its fourth engine burn, this time raising its orbital apogee to 89,472 kilometers (55,595 miles).

The next burn is scheduled for August 6, when the spacecraft’s orbit brings it back down to its perigee.

By September they expect to raise that apogee high enough so that it is within the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when they will be able to put it the spacecraft into lunar orbit.

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