India has launched a rocket to study the sun, a little over a week after its successful unmanned landing on the moon.
The Aditya-L1 rocket, carrying scientific instruments to observe the sun’s outermost layers, blasted off at 11:50am (06:20 GMT) on Saturday for its four-month journey.
The rocket left a trail of smoke and fire as scientists clapped, a live broadcast on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) website showed.
The broadcast was watched by nearly 500,000 viewers, while thousands gathered at a viewing gallery near the launch site to see the lift-off of the probe, which will aim to study solar winds, which can cause disturbance on earth commonly seen as auroras.
According to ISRO, the spacecraft is carrying “seven scientific payloads for systematic study of the sun”, all of which were indigenously developed in collaborations between India’s space agency and scientific institutes.
India sun mission
The sun as seen by the Solar Orbiter spacecraft in extreme ultraviolet light in this mosaic of 25 individual images taken on March 7, 2023, by the high resolution telescope of the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument [File: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI team/Handout via Reuters]
The United States and the European Space Agency (ESA) have sent numerous probes to the centre of the solar system, beginning with NASA’s Pioneer programme in the 1960s. But if the latest mission by the ISRO is successful, it will be the first probe by any Asian nation to be placed in solar orbit.
Named after the Hindi word for the sun, the Aditya-L1 launch follows India beating Russia late last month to become the first country to land on the south pole of the moon. While Russia had a more powerful rocket, India’s Chandrayaan-3 out-endured the Luna-25 to execute a textbook landing.
The Aditya-L1 is travelling on the ISRO-designed, 320-tonne PSLV XL rocket that has been a mainstay of the Indian space programme, powering earlier launches to the moon and Mars.
The spacecraft is designed to travel about 1.5 million km (930,000 miles) over four months to a kind of parking lot in space where objects tend to stay put because of balancing gravitational forces, reducing fuel consumption for the spacecraft.
Those positions are called Lagrange Points, named after Italian-French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange.
The mission has the capacity to make a “big bang in terms of science,” said Somak Raychaudhury, who was involved in the development of some components of the observatory, adding that energy particles emitted by the sun can hit satellites that control communications on earth.
“There have been episodes when major communications have gone down because a satellite has been hit by a big corona emission. Satellites in low earth orbit are the main focus of global private players, which makes the Aditya L1 mission a very important project,” he said.
India has been steadily matching the achievements of established spacefaring powers at a fraction of their cost.
India’s successful landing on the surface of the moon – a feat previously achieved only by Russia, the US and China – was achieved at a cost of less than $75m.
India became the first Asian nation to put a craft into orbit around Mars in 2014 and is slated to launch a three-day crewed mission into the Earth’s orbit by next year.