India’s premier space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is preparing to place its first solar mission, Aditya-L1, into its final orbit on Saturday afternoon. This milestone maneuver will position the satellite to make groundbreaking observations of the Sun from the first Lagrange point between the Earth and Sun.
Years Of Planning Lead Up To Critical Burn
Aditya-L1 has been traveling toward an area of space about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth since its launch in November 2022. On Saturday at around 4 PM IST, ISRO will ignite the spacecraft’s engines for a final short burn to insert it into a unique “halo orbit” around the L1 Lagrange point.
Lagrange points are gravitationally stable areas where the gravitational forces of two large orbiting bodies, like the Earth and Sun, balance out. The L1 point affords an uninterrupted view of the Sun, making it the optimal location from where Aditya-L1 can continuously study solar weather phenomena.
Getting to this point has been years in the making. ISRO first proposed Aditya as a 400kg-class satellite mission to observe the Sun’s corona in 2008. Since then, the scope and scale of the project expanded significantly. In its current avatar with multiple payloads, Aditya weighs 650kg and carries six additional instruments.
Critical Operation Carries Little Room For Error
The L1 insertion burn will use Aditya’s secondary propulsion system with a targeted duration of 583 seconds. ISRO Chairman Dr. S Somanath indicated that the engines will need to fire continuously and as planned for the maneuver to succeed.
“If this firing is not done for the full duration the spacecraft will not be in the desired halo orbit, it can crash into the moon or get lost in deep space,” Dr. Somanath said earlier.
If the burn goes as expected, Aditya will join only four other solar study satellites at L1 – like NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and WIND.
|Orbit Insertion Date
|August 25, 1997
|February 14, 1996
|June 8, 2015
|October 1, 2004
Unparalleled Access To Solar Phenomena
From the L1 vantage point, Aditya-L1 will be in prime position to capture crucial data and images to help scientists unpack mysteries of the Sun. The major objectives of the mission are:
- Continuous solar corona observations
- Tracking Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) from close proximity
- Study evolution and origin of the solar storms
- Measure solar radiations
The mission carries a Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC) to study the corona and also detect storms early on. The other payloads will provide supplementary data on particles, magnetic fields and more. Researchers expect these complementary readings and pictures to significantly advance understanding of the Sun’s sphere of influence and activity cycles.
New Discoveries To Boost Space Weather Prediction
Experts believe Aditya’s uninterrupted tracking of storms and solar winds from L1 will result in a “huge leap” in space weather prediction capabilities.
Dr. Wahab Uddin, Director of UM-DAE Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences (CBS) explained how these observations can help models more accurately forecast the impacts of solar activity on satellite operations and communications infrastructure. Timely and precise forecasts will help agencies take preventive measures before solar storms cause disruptions.
Years Of Boundless Solar Gazing From Halo Orbit
Now that it has completed the challenging journey, Aditya-L1 is designed to keep studying the Sun for several years from the stability of its halo orbit. The mission already captured stunning first images that awed space enthusiasts across India. The photo gallery will only grow richer once the satellite settles into its new orbital home and fully activates its scientific payloads.
With the $104 million Aditya project realizing its goal after crossing every hurdle, ISRO continues to burnish its credentials as a world leader in space technology. The successful L1 insertion will also lift spirits in the Indian space community, which is still recovering from the disappointment of the Chandrayaan-3 postponement.
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