India's first unmanned mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1, may have been successful in playing a pivotal role while making the breakthrough discovery of water on the lunar surface. But the way the intended two-year moon-orbiting mission was aborted after just 312 days due to intense solar radiation that roasted its electronic panels and abruptly stopped data relay, Indian space scientists are worried about the fate of their second unmanned touch-down lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, scheduled to be launched in September 2013.
The worry is that the second moon mission will be even more vulnerable to solar radiation than its predecessor. Ensuring that the planned mission is safe from radiation could see the cost being further pushed up from its present estimated Rs426 crore, according to sources in Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
The reason for their worries, according to a senior Isro scientist, is Solar Cycle 24. It is the 24th recorded solar cycle and the sun's activities are on the rise as the star is entering 'solar maxima' — part of the 11-year solar cycle which sees increasing frequency of coronal mass ejections from the Sun, which can destroy space-borne and terrestrial electronic equipment and communication gadgets.
The interesting irony is that Chandrayaan-1 was affected by solar radiation despite the sun's activity being at its minimum in 2008-2009. The mission, launched on October 22, 2008, was aborted on August 29, 2009, when Isro scientists realised that the satellite orbiting moon at an altitude of 100 km from the lunar surface was not relaying any data. The space scientists had expected the mission to outlast its two-year lifespan.
According to scientists at Heliophysics Division at US' National Aeronautics & Space Administration (Nasa), the sun's activities are on the rise now after three years of lull. On February 15 and March 9, earth-orbiting satellites detected extremely powerful solar flares. And on March 7, the Sun belched out a billion-ton cloud at a speed of a whopping 2,200 km/sec, which delivered a glancing blow to earth's magnetic field.
These three solar incidents are warnings about things to come, and they don't vibe well with plans surrounding Chandrayaan-2. According to Chandrayaan project director, Mylaswamy Annadurai, space scientists are designing a stronger radiation shield for Chandrayaan-2 and are increasing its thickness compared to that of Chandrayaan-1.
Date : 4/18/2011 Author : Nirad Mudur Copyright restricted. Under license from www.3dsyndication.com