Nandkumar M Kamat
From Sunday, July 21 humans have entered a new age of post Armstrong-Aldrin moon landing. It is the beginning of another exciting half century. July 20, 2019 would have been more exciting if ISRO had launched the Chandrayaan-2 on July 15 as scheduled. But the launch to be witnessed by President of India and 5000 people was aborted.
At stake was a mission of `1000 crores. Although a section of media continued to harp on the cost of the mission the actual comparison should have been made with the cost of Mig fighters- `120- 210 crores per piece. So a single Chandrayaan-2 mission cost is equivalent to five or eight Mig fighters. Till 2019 more than 490 Mig fighter crashes have taken place and 170 pilots have lost their lives. So even if the Chandrayaan -2 Mission meets with a mishap on its second attempt the nation should take such accidents in its stride and move on hoping for further improvement in technology.
But the real reason behind the attack on ISRO for launch failure is totally different. The western countries, China, and Pakistan, are worried about ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 Mission not because of the objectives to explore the moon but the potential of the launching rocket GSLV mark III. If instead of steering it vertically if it is modified by DRDO to cruise horizontally along the curvature of Earth then it could be a powerful very long range Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and in place of the spacecraft as the payload India can put a nuclear warhead. So for foreign military and strategic experts the Chandrayaan-2 launch holds a different message.
Sabotages of ISRO’s launching programme can’t be ruled out because there is no fool proof security anywhere in the world. I had a faint apprehension that something would go wrong on July 15 and that the Chandrayaan-2 launch would be aborted. It was an unusual premonition. That’s the reason I wrote last week-“the coming week is very exciting for our and the younger generation because if everything goes as per the schedule and the countdown is successful then Chadarayaan-2 will be launched on July 15.” I had this apprehension because ISRO has not yet mastered the technology of swadeshi cryogenic engine. The GSLV rocket is also not tested frequently. That’s why I had written– “but this time it is a much more advanced mission and anything can go wrong anytime. Soft landing of lander and then the movement of the robotic rover on the moon, if achieved with precision would send waves of tremendous excitement across India in September 2019.”
On July 15, ISRO informed the world – “A technical snag was observed in the launch vehicle system at one hour before the launch. As a measure of abundant precaution the Chandrayaan-2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later.” This started an expected national and global debate with both positive and negative angles. Experts advised ISRO not to fall prey to political or nationalistic jingoism. If technological power projection is jingoism then what was Apollo programme all about? Why then did USA not leave behind the flag of United Nations on the moon but instead plant its own?
There is absolutely no jingoism in planning of ISRO missions. ISRO found the fault in the ‘nipple joint’ in cryogenic engine and corrected it. There are millions of components in such rockets and their smooth functioning depends on precision engineering and efficient testing. ISRO issued a statement on July 18. It said that Chandrayaan – 2 launch scheduled on July 15, 2019 at 2:51 hours was called off due to a technical snag noticed at around one hour before launch. An expert committee was constituted to analyse the issue and suggest remedial action. The expert committee identified the root cause of the technical snag and all corrective actions were implemented. Thereafter, the system performance is normal. Chandrayaan – 2 launch is now rescheduled on July 22, 2019 at 14:43 hrs from second launch pad of SDSC, Sriharikota.
Now what is not made clear by ISRO is the impact of the new launch window on the original mission schedule. It is possible that the new launch date may interfere with the function of the rover because its’ solar panel needs to receive enough sunlight to generate power. The nation will be holding its breath for this second launch. If GSLV -III fails at any stage then it will be a massive setback for such advanced missions. Technical experts are not very sure about the indigenous cryogenic engine. If it works well then the spacecraft will be able to reach the intended distance from Earth. Once that is achieved successfully, ISRO can breathe a lot easier.
The subsequent stages will incrementally raise the distance of Chandrayaan-2 from the Earth bringing it closer and closer within gravitational pull of the moon. Till the end of August 2019, ISRO will keep the country informed. The real test will be in September when the spacecraft will have to be captured by the moon.
ISRO has already got outstanding experience with Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan-1 so there shouldn’t be any reason to distrust their mission team. And finally even if the launch on July 22 meets with failure or disaster we must not begin a negative campaign because technology improves with accidents, mishaps, and mistakes. Wish Chandrayaan-2 mission all the success on July 22.