2024 is a busy year for Indian science

New Delhi: After the landmark landing on the south pole of the moon, India is now set on more challenging missions – sending humans into space and getting samples from the lunar surface back to earth. Test flights for both projects are planned for the new year.

For Indian scientists, it’s just not about the moon and beyond. Continuing its deep ocean exploration, the country is scheduled to send aquanauts aboard the Samudrayaan, first to a depth of 500 meters in March, and later to reach its target depth of 6,000 meters.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will start the new year with the launch of XPoSat.

The X-Ray Polarimeter Satellite (XPoSat) will seek to unravel the mysteries of X-ray sources and study the enigmatic world of black holes. The satellite is set to launch on January 1 aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota.

This will be followed by the insertion of the Aditya L-1 satellite into Lagrange Point-1 on January 6 at 4:00 pm, from where it will have an uninterrupted view of the sun, its object of study for the next five years.

The new year will also see the launch of the NISAR satellite, a $1.2 billion joint project between NASA and ISRO. It will be the most expensive earth imaging satellite ever built to study climate change.

The past year has been an exciting one for science in India, culminating in the launch of the Chandrayaan-3 mission on July 14 and its soft landing near the Moon’s south pole on August 23.

The mission’s Vikram lander also delivered a ‘Pragyaan’ rover to the lunar surface, which circled within a few metres, snapped pictures of the moon and scooped up ‘regolith’ from the lunar soil to study its properties.

ISRO also pulled off a surprise by having the Vikram lander jump up and land slightly off its position, a demonstration of the spacecraft’s ability to lift off from the lunar surface. Another surprise was the return of the propulsion module that had been orbiting the moon back into Earth orbit, providing a glimpse into the possibilities of returning moon rocks to Earth.

The new year will see two unmanned missions under the Gaganyaan project to validate the launch vehicle and orbital module in actual flight.

Also, multiple sub-orbital missions are planned using a test vehicle to validate the Gaganyaan Crew Escape System under various cut-off conditions as ISRO is eyeing a time slot of 2025 to send an Indian into space in an Indian capsule.

The space agency, through its commercial arm NewSpace India Limited, also sent 72 satellites of OneWeb, the Bharti Enterprises-backed satellite Internet provider, into low-Earth orbit in two separate missions on a Mark-III launch vehicle (LVM-3), which was used to commercial releases for the first time.

The first mission to put 36 satellites into orbit was on October 23, 2022, followed by a similar mission on March 26.

The private space sector is also eyeing its first commercial launch in 2024 with Skyroot Aerospace and Agnikul Cosmos preparing their homegrown launch vehicle to put small satellites into low Earth orbits.

“For the launch of Vikram-1, we are targeting the first half of 2024. 2024 will be a milestone for us as we progress towards orbital launch capabilities, which is critical for the commercialization of our launch services,” Skyroot Aerospace co founder Pawan Kumar Chandana told PTI.

Agnikul Cosmos, the IIT-Madras space startup, is also set to conduct a test flight of its 3D printed rocket ‘Agnibaan’ in the new year.

Bengaluru-based Pixxel, which has made a name for itself in hyperspectral imaging satellites, has plans to field a constellation of 24 satellites by 2025. The first six Fireflies satellites are slated for launch in 2024 and 18 in 2025.

The government also approved proposals for India’s participation in major science projects such as the Rs 2,600 crore Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the joint Indo-US Fermilab initiative (Rs 900 crore).

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