Friday, July 17, 2015

India Eyes Venus Exploration

Venus in real color. Credit: NASA

Encouraged by the successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and the latest launch of five British satellites into space, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) mulls next possible space exploration destinations. According to ISRO Chairman Kiran Kumar, one of the considered missions would visit our neighboring planet Venus. “Besides the second Mars mission, we are looking at Venus and even an asteroid for exploration. A project has to be formulated for this before we chart out a proper roadmap for the explorations. Venus is our neighbor and has many scientific challenges and aspects that need to be studied. Exploring an asteroid is also challenging task,” Kumar said.

ISRO is planning to release a 10-year road map for planetary exploration in which it will lay out the proposed missions.

"Right now discussions are going on for one more mission to Mars or Venus or we should look at asteroids. There is a science team which is going through this discussion," Kumar said.

Venus, one of the four terrestrial planets in the solar system is called Earth's "sister planet" because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun and bulk composition. It is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had oceans in the past, but these would have vaporized as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect.

So far, only Russia, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA) have successfully sent their missions to Venus. In December 2015, Japan will try to insert its Akatsuki probe into the planet’s orbit. The first attempt failed in 2010.

In September 2014, when MOM was successfully put into Martian orbit, ISRO became the fourth space agency to reach Mars. India is the first country in the world to enter the orbit of the Red Planet in the first attempt.

ISRO is also considering sending another spacecraft to the moon – Chandrayaan 2.

"Right now it is going through the realization phase. Work is going on," Kumar revealed.

Chandrayaan 1 was India's first lunar probe. It was launched in October 2008, and operated until August 2009. The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor. The mission’s greatest achievement was the discovery of the widespread presence of water molecules in the lunar soil.

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