Where is ISRO in the race for Mars

India flies to Mars

For years, India's space agency has been pursuing ambitious plans despite its small budget. The first mission to Mars has now started. However, there are question marks behind other ambitious projects.

India's mission to Mars began with a picture book launch. At 2:38 p.m. local time, the red and white launcher took off on Tuesday from the Satish Dawan spaceport in the south of the country - on board a research probe equipped with five cameras and sensors. If everything goes according to plan, it will send the first data from the orbit of the Red Planet to the space agency ISRO at the end of September 2014. A landing of the orbiter is not planned.

"With this ambitious project, India wants to take another step towards becoming an internationally recognized space nation," emphasizes the specialist journalist Kalyan Ray. It is not just about collecting scientific data from the atmosphere and from the surface of Mars. “The researchers and technicians also want to show that they have mastered the highly complex technologies.” ISRO President K. Radhakrishnan says: “We should be proud that our country is capable of such a mission.

Reaching for the stars began modestly for India. In 1975 a Soviet rocket launched the first satellite into space. Five years later, a rocket launch succeeded for the first time. This gave the impetus for the development of further satellites and the construction of carrier systems. The PSLV rockets have proven to be particularly reliable for payloads of up to two tons. Dozens of Indian and foreign satellites have already taken them into space. Today, ISRO can look back on more than 100 space missions.

"We have developed world-class technologies at relatively low costs," said former ISRO boss Udipi Ramachandra Rao recently. Until ten years ago, the agency concentrated on projects for the economic and social development of India. “That affects areas like telecommunications,” says Rao. "Our data are also of importance for agriculture and fishing." In addition, Indian weather satellites did not help to predict the course of the cyclone "Phailin" until October. Hundreds of thousands of coastal residents could be evacuated in time.

ISRO now has the capacity to look deeper into space. In 2008 a PSLV rocket was launched with the first Indian lunar probe on board. This provided data for ten months. Then the contact broke off - earlier than planned. Nevertheless, ISRO spoke of a success, since "90 to 95 percent" of the planned tasks had been completed.

The 1350 kilogram Mars probe was also shot into space with a PSLV rocket on Tuesday. The technicians, on the other hand, are worried about the GSLV rockets for payloads of over two tons. In the last few years all starts failed. Again and again there was speculation about whether there might be financing problems behind it.

The fact is: ISRO has to get by on a tight budget. For 2013, the government approved 56 billion rupees (660 million euros) - a fraction of NASA's budget. 55 percent of the money is earmarked for the development and construction of new satellites, 35 percent goes into the launch systems. The rest will be spent on research projects such as the Mars mission, the cost of which is around 4.5 billion rupees (53 million euros). A medium-sized passenger aircraft is almost twice as expensive.

With a view to budget in particular, ISRO boss Radhakrishnan rejected reports of an alleged race to the stars between India and China. Each country sets its own research priorities. Nobody is interested in an exhausting race. "Nevertheless, we are in competition with ourselves in order to be able to advance into new regions."

ISRO is planning a second lunar mission in which a vehicle is to be deployed on the lunar surface. The first manned space flight is scheduled to start as early as 2015. However, journalist Ray is skeptical. »The time frame and budget for both projects are tight. We also need reliable missiles for transport. In contrast to the Mars mission, there are still many unanswered questions.

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