India launched the Aditya-L1 probe on Saturday for a trip to the center of the solar system, a week after an unmanned vehicle successfully landed near the moon’s south pole.
The Aditya-L1 spacecraft, Sun in Hindi, was launched at 11:50 a.m. local time, and a live television broadcast showed hundreds of spectators cheering wildly amid the deafening noise of the rocket’s ascent.
“Congratulations to our scientists and engineers,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on X (ex-Twitter). “Our tireless scientific efforts will continue to lead to a better understanding of the universe,” he welcomed.
The mission carries scientific instruments to observe the sun’s outer layers during a four-month journey.
The United States and the European Space Agency (ESA) have already put devices into orbit to study the sun, including NASA’s Pioneer program in the 1960s, but this will be a first for India. Both Japan and China have launched their own solar observation missions into Earth orbit.
A first for an Asian nation
If successful, this Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) mission will be the first to be launched into orbit around the Sun by an Asian country. This is an ambitious mission for India, astrophysicist Somak Raychaudhury told NDTV on Friday.
Raychaudhury said the probe will study coronal mass ejections, a periodic phenomenon that results in enormous discharges of plasma and magnetic energy from the Sun’s atmosphere. They are so powerful that they can reach Earth and potentially disrupt satellite operations.
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Students look at a model of the Aditya-L1 probe at the Science and Technology Museum in Kolkata shortly before its launch.
Photo: dpa via getty images / DIBYANGSHU SARKAR
Aditya will help predict these phenomena and alert everyone so that the satellites can turn off their power, the astrophysicist added.
He says it will also help us understand how these things happen and that we may no longer need a warning system in the future.
Aditya will travel 1.5 million kilometers to reach his destination, which is still just one percent of the vast distance between the Earth and the Sun. At this strategic location, the gravitational forces of the two celestial bodies cancel each other out, allowing the mission to remain in a stable orbit around our nearest star.
The study satellite will be carried by the 320 tonne PSLV XL rocket developed by ISRO. This pillar of India’s space program has already carried out launches to the Moon and Mars.
The mission also aims to shed light on the dynamics of several other solar phenomena by imaging and measuring particles in the sun’s upper atmosphere.
A modest budget
India has consistently achieved the successes of established space powers and at a fraction of the cost. India’s aerospace program has a relatively modest budget, but it has increased significantly since the first attempt to put a probe into orbit around the moon in 2008.
Industry experts say India is managing to keep costs down by replicating and adapting existing space technology for its purposes, particularly thanks to its large number of highly skilled engineers who are paid much less than their foreign counterparts.
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On August 24, India managed to land an unmanned vehicle near the moon’s south pole, an achievement these men celebrated in the streets of Ahmedabad.
Photo: afp via getty images / SAM PANTHAKY
Last month’s successful moon landing – a feat previously achieved only by Russia, the United States and China – cost less than $75 million. It was widely celebrated by the public, with prayer rituals for the success of the mission and school children watching the final descent through live broadcasts into classrooms.
In 2014, India became the first Asian country to place a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. A three-day manned mission around the Earth is scheduled to be launched by next year.
A joint mission with Japan should make it possible to send a probe to the moon by 2025 and a mission to Venus within two years.