NASA may provide Terahertz devices for Shukrayaan-1
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ISRO’s proposed mission to Venus is tentatively scheduled for mid-2023

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may provide Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with Terahertz devices for its Shukrayaan-1, the proposed orbiter to Venus, a senior NASA scientist indicated in Kolkata.

Goutam Chattopadhyay, senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was here in connection with IMaRC 2018, an international conference on microwave and RF, said ISRO on November 6 had published an “announcement of opportunity” in connection with its mission to Venus, tentatively scheduled for launch in mid-2023. In the announcement, ISRO had invited scientists and institutes from across the world to submit proposals for instruments that could be used in the mission. Chattopadhyay said NASA had taken note of ISRO’s invitation and was planning to contribute to the mission with some devices. He, however, clarified that nothing has been finalised yet, but NASA may provide Terahertz devices or Shukrayaan-1.

In the past 20 years, NASA has successfully launched and deployed scientific satellites with Terahertz (THz) instruments and sensors for applications in astronomy.

Interestingly, on November 26, NASA’s InSight landed on Mars to study the composition of the planet’s deep interior, and how planets like Mars and Earth were formed and how they evolved. Chattopadhyay said the newest thing in this mission is a pair of CubeSats WALL-E and EVE, two briefcase-sized satellites, launched separately for establishing deep space communication.

“The biggest challenges in any space mission are posed by the mass of the probe and the power needed to drive it. CubeSats, used for the first time with the InSight lander, promises to help resolve these issues to an extent as they flew independently to Mars and are already helping us communicate with InSight effectively,” said Chattopadhyay.

He said CubeSats have been of great advantage as these are sending pictures, which helped scientists learn if the InSight landed successfully. “For at least seven minutes after InSight enters Mars, we cannot know what happened to the probe as no communication can be set up for that period of time. CubeSats helped to know faster if the probe landed successfully, and we didn’t have to keep wondering for those seven minutes what happened to it,” he said.

Chattopadhyay feels CubeSats could be the future of space missions as these small satellites help in reducing the load of the lander and use their own power source, allowing the Mars lander to work longer and better. Manned mission to Mars has not been possible as NASA is yet to be able to develop technology to ensure the passage of the mission back to Earth.

“We have the technology to take humans to Mars, but it would be a one way ticket. It would take at least 20 years to develop such a technology and work is already going on towards this goal,” said Chattopadhyay.

Columnist: 
Ritwik Mukherjee