If everything goes as planned, India will launch its first sun-observing spacecraft this weekend.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) stated on Monday (Aug. 28) that the Aditya-L1 solar observatory will launch on Saturday (Sept. 2) at 2:20 a.m. EDT (0620 GMT; 11:50 local India time).
The spacecraft will launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the island of Sriharikota, close off India’s east coast, atop a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. ISRO will provide live coverage of the event on Space.com.
Aditya-L1 will first be launched into low Earth orbit, where the mission team will test its many systems in space. If everything goes well, the spacecraft’s orbit will gradually loosen, eventually breaking free of our planet’s gravitational influence. When Aditya-L1 is free of Earth’s gravity, it will go to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable location around 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) distant.
“A satellite placed in the halo orbit around the L1 point has the major advantage of continuously viewing the sun without any occultation/eclipses,” ISRO officials noted in a mission description for the Aditya-L1 project. “This will give us a better chance of observing solar activity and its impact on space weather in real time.”
That location explains the “L1” in the mission’s name. Meanwhile, “Aditya” means “sun” in Sanskrit.
Once at L1, the probe’s seven research equipment will be used to investigate the sun in a number of ways. According to ISRO officials, Aditya-L1’s data could assist academics better comprehend the mechanics of solar flares and huge outbursts of superhot solar plasma known as coronal mass ejections.
The mission may also throw light on why the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface — approximately 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius) against 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius) or so.
The launch of India’s estimated 3.8-billion-rupee ($45 million US) Aditya-L1 mission will come on the heels of the country’s spectacular achievement on the moon: Last Wednesday (Aug. 23), the country’s Chandrayaan-3 lander-rover combo successfully landed on Earth’s nearest neighbor.
Since then, Chandrayaan-3 has been exploring the moon’s south polar region, which had not before hosted a surface mission. The moon’s polar regions have piqued the interest of explorationists because they are expected to contain vast volumes of water ice, a critical resource that may support human settlements.
The Vikram lander and Pragyan rover of Chandrayaan-3 are scheduled to operate for approximately one lunar day (14 Earth days) before being silenced by the terrible cold and darkness of the long lunar night.