Sri Harikota: India’s first unmanned flight to the moon blasted off from Sriharikota, off the Andhra Pradesh coast, early morning on Wednesday and started to cruise around the earth in its designated orbit, minutes after a copybook liftoff.
Carrying over a billion hopes, India's maiden lunar mission began its historic journey to the moon on Wednesday when an indigenously developed rocket placed the spacecraft into the Transfer Orbit "perfectly".
A 44-metre-tall and 316-tonne rocket called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C11) carried the 1,380-kg lunar orbiter from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, , about 80 km north of Chennai, at exactly 0622 hrs IST.
After 18.2 minutes of the lift-off, ISRO's warhorse rocket injected Chandrayaan-I into earth orbit.
The cuboid spacecraft built by the Indian Space Research Organisation – likely to be injected into Moon’s orbit on November 8 – has launched the country into the elite club that has sent missions to the moon.
Other members of the club are the US, former Soviet Union, European Space Agency, China and Japan. The US returns to lunar exploration aboard Chandrayaan-1, which is also carrying two NASA instruments in its payload.
The first four phases of the launch were 100 per cent perfect, said the scientists, and ground stations across the world - including the master control station in Bangalore - started getting signals from Chandrayaan.
Hectic activity is on at the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Peenya, Bangalore which will be the country's nerve-centre for controlling Chandrayaan-I for the next two years.
The Deep Space Network (DSN) at Byalalu will join ISTRAC in tracking the spacecraft for the next six hours.
’It’s a historical moment’
Speaking minutes after the successful liftoff Chairman of the Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair described the moment as historic. “India has started its journey to the moon. The first leg has gone perfectly. the spacecraft has been launched into orbit,” he said.
Nair pointed out that the launch had gone off perfectly despite heavy rain in and around the spaceport for the last four days. "We've been fighting the odds for the last four days," he said.
But the weather gods relented by Tuesday evening and there no rain when the launch took place in a cloudy morning sky.
Chandrayaan-1 started to orbit the earth on its geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), from which its onboard liquid apogee motor (LAM) will be fired in a series of complex manoeuvres to take it to the lunar orbit - 387,000 km from earth - on Nov 8.
It was a dream come true for about 1,000 space scientists and technologists when PSLV-C11, with the spacecraft atop, blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre of the state-run ISRO.
Within minutes of the 44.4-metre rocket roaring aloft, leaving behind an inferno in the underground inlets of the second launch pad, the mission control centre of the space station erupted with joy and excitement.
Top scientists, led by Nair, space centre director M C Dathan, associate director M Y S Prasad and others shook hands and hugged one another even as the high-security facility reverberated with clapping of hands and cheers.
Former ISRO chairmen U.R. Rao and K. Kasturirangan and space commission member Roddam Narasimaiah, who were present on the occasion, congratulated Nair and his team.
Prominent dignitaries who witnessed the historic mission from ground zero included Tamil Nadu governor Surjit Singh Barnala and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja.
Once on moon, what next?
Once the 1,380-kg Chandrayaan-1 gets near the moon its speed will be reduced to enable the gravity of the moon to capture it into an elliptical orbit.
At the earliest possible opportunity the spacecraft that will orbit 100 km above the surface of the moon will drop its Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which will land on the lunar surface carrying India's flag, among many scientific instruments. After that, the spacecraft will also activate its cameras and other instruments on board.
Chandrayaan-1 will orbit the moon for two years. It carries 11 experimental payloads, five Indian and six from abroad - the two from NASA, three from the European Space Agency (ESA) and one from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The objectives of the mission are to expand scientific knowledge about the moon, to upgrade India's technological capability and provide opportunities for planetary research to the younger generation of scientists and technologists.
"Chandrayaan-1 aims to achieve these objectives through high resolution of the moon in the visible, near infrared, microwave and x-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum," mission director M. Annadurai told IANS.
A three-dimensional atlas of the lunar surface and chemical mapping of the entire lunar surface are the other objectives of the mission.
India's mission to the moon is the world's 68th. Of them, 64 have been launched by the US and the former USSR. China and Japan launched their respective moon missions Chang'e and Kaguya in September and October 2007, while the ESA undertook such a mission from November 2004 to September 2006 with SMART (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology).
Wednesday morning's launch differed in some important aspects from earlier PSLV launches by ISRO. At liftoff, PSLV C11 weighed 22 tonnes more than the earlier models, as its six strap-on motors were 3.5 metres bigger at 13.5 metres and the rocket carried 12 tonnes of solid propellant as against the usual nine tonnes.
"The vehicle structure was altered to have bigger strap-on motors. The rocket is also padded up with additional thermal insulation," George Koshy, project director, said.<table width="100%" border="0" align="center" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2"> <tr> <td class="Btext11 pLeft5" style="background-color:#F3E1D6"width="365"><b>Recent Missions to Moon</b></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="Btext11 pLeft5" style="background-color:#F3E1D6"><span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>HITEN:</b> A project of the Japanese Space Agency was launched from the Uchinaoura Space Center in Japan on January 24, 1990.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>CLEMENTINE:</b> A joint project between the Strategic Defence Initiative Organisation and NASA, was launched from Vandenberg AFB aboard a Titan IIG rocket on January 25, 1994.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>ASIASAT 3/HGS-1:</b> A project funded by Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd (the Peoples Republic of China) and Pan American Satellite (United States) was launched from Tyuratam in Kazakhstan on Dec 24, 1997.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>LUNAR PROSPECTOR:</b> as launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on January 7, 1998<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>SMART 1:</b> Was launched from Kourou in French Guiana on September 27, 2003.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>KAGUYA:</b> was launched from Tanegashima in Japan on September 14, 2007.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>CHANG'E 1:</b> Was launched from Xichang in China on October 24, 2007.<br /> <span class="pLeft5"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /></span> <b>CHANDRAYAAN-I:</b> Was launched from Sriharikota in India on October 22, 2008.<br /></td> </tr> </table>