2016 has been a good year for space exploration, even if you think that everything else has been kinda shitty.
In fact, the shittier things are, the happier I am that we’re making progress on the space exploration front. That way, if the downward trend begins to spiral, at least we’ll have a better chance of starting over somewhere else.
I can almost hear Mars going, “pls no”.
Sorry, we’ll be seeing you in a bit
Here’s my favorite piece of space exploration news from this year: the CEO of Boeing all but challenged Elon Musk to a space race. Like this article details, the last time we got some cool space shit done, it was at the height of the cold war, when the space race was at its peak.
Now, it’s gone private and this has happened without the imminent threat of extinction-by-nuke hanging over our heads (instead, it’s just global warming).
I’d call that a victory either way. Shit’s going to get done again!
Plus, governmental space programs across the globe have seen roaring success, for the most part, this year. India has been far from silent on this front, like you’re going to find out.
Mangalyaan Is on the New 2000 Rupee Notes!
Amidst all the uproar and debate that demonetisation has birthed, Mangalyaan, our indigenous Mars orbiter, has made it onto the new 2000 rupee notes. Color me pink with excitement (and read more about it here).
The last time a space-related thing made it onto Indian currency, it was the Aryabhata satellite on the 2-rupee note. This denomination was discontinued in 1995, so it’s about time ISRO took the spotlight again.
A Bangalore-Based Team Is Gunning for Google's Lunar XPRIZE
Team Indus, a Bangalore-based company. And these starry-eyed folks are going after Google’s Lunar XPRIZE.
Basically, first to the moon wins (and presumably, last one there is a rotten egg).
Google is going to award a cash prize of $20 million to the first privately-funded team that can put a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, get it to travel 500 meters, and send back HD video footage. Obviously, Google doesn’t expect these teams to build and launch a rocket as well. Instead, they just need to build the thing that’ll land on the moon and get someone else to send them up.
Team Indus has ensured that their vehicle has a ride to the moon by securing a launch contract with ISRO earlier this month.
ISRO Put a Constellation of 7 Satellites into Orbit around Earth
This is the IRNSS (the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System). It’s basically GPS, exclusively for India. It can provide positioning that is accurate up to 10 meters within a radius of 1,250 km.
Here’s the approximate range that the IRNSS offers
The cool thing about this is that the net of satellites is going to help with navigation, provide aid in times of disaster, and supply the military with invaluable data.
PSLV-XL, the same launch vehicle (read, big-ass rocket) that was used to put Mangalyaan into Mars orbit, was used to launch these satellites as well.
20 Satellites, One Rocket: ISRO Doubled Its Own Best
On June 22nd, The PSLV-C34 launch vehicle was used to break ISRO’s previous record of launching 10 satellites with one rocket.
They outdid themselves this year by piling 20 satellites onto one rocket and then sending the whole thing into space.
The satellites that were put into orbit include 2 for Indian universities, 17 for other countries, and one for Google.
Russia still holds the record for this kind of mission, though, with 37 satellites in one launch—in 2014. But we’ll get there in time, if things keep progressing like they have been.
8 More Satellites on One Rocket: Bringing Home the Big Bucks
Following up on June’s triumph, ISRO launched 8 more satellites with one launch vehicle. With this, ISRO has launched a total of 79 foreign satellites. Bear in mind that each satellite they put into orbit translates to income for ISRO.
This latter point is something to consider if you think of India’s space program as a waste of government funds. They’re actively making money by doing this.
According to this article by the BBC, ISRO is in demand when it comes to satellite launches because of its ability to meet deadlines. It also helps that its launch vehicles have a great track record when it comes to reliability.
A Reusable Shuttle for Cheaper Launches
In May this year, ISRO tested the RLV-TD, which is a scaled-down version of a reusable launch vehicle.
The test went well, and implementing this technology could bring down the organisation’s launch costs by 10 times because they won’t always have to build a one-time-use rocket whenever they want to launch something.
While it looks like the iconic NASA space shuttle, this one is not going to be manned.
Here are 3 non-reusable launch vehicles that ISRO uses right now:
Their use of the iconic Ambassador is 10/10 in my books
Outer space is this generation’s frontier, and it’s heartening to see India rise to the challenge. ISRO is easily on par with the best around the world, and it’s only going to keep getting better. With private players like Team Indus making a foray into this as well, things are looking up.
There’s a lot of exciting space stuff that’s lined up for the coming year. Watch this space, and we’ll keep you in the know.