India, US team up for space raider

By NT Bureau Published on Jun 21, 2017 02:56 PM IST

Chennai: It is going to be a combined effort by the USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in bringing up a new long range space radar NASA- ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR), informed General Larry D James, deputy director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA, here on Tuesday.

James, who was in Chennai for an interactive session with school students at Periyar Science and Technology Centre, organised by the US Consulate General, had a round table interaction with scribes on the sidelines of the event. He said, "NISAR would have US-made, L-band radar and S-band by ISRO."

He added that both organisations have been putting hardware together and working on various components that are being built. L-band will be shipped to India for integration. "We have also started building all those components that will make the space craft," Larry added.

The satellite, NISAR, is being built to monitor, measure and provide images of motion of tectonic plates, ice sheets and changes in vegetation over land in agricultural fields and forests. It is scheduled to be launched in 2021. Further, when talking about NASA’s upcoming project, Larry said, "Sending humans to orbit Mars is our primary mission now. We are working on the human and rocket technologies required for the long mission."

When asked about the status of the mission, he said, "We are doing human research in that mission. Next stage is going to lunar space and building habitat there and staying there for long periods of time." Explaining the technology, he said, "It generally takes five to six months to go to Mars and probably stay there for a year so that the planets align themselves to come back to earth in a shorter time."

Further, he added that, "We are talking about two to three years to orbit Mars and come back. So how do you keep the crew alive that long in terms of protecting them from radiation and ensure they have supplies? So, a lot of work still has to be done just to make sure the crew are safe."

Regarding colonising Mars, James said, "Building a habitat on the Moon and staying there for a long period was a necessary first step before man can make his journey to Mars." It is primarily to learn how to colonise a place in non-Earth conditions, he said, elaborating, "The human capacity to withstand radiation and other effects of long stay in space was already being tested out in the space station where astronauts spend over a year in space. The next step would be a prolonged stay in the lunar environment. Sometime in early 2030s we are looking at a manned mission to Mars and back. And only years after that in the far future, we can think about colonising Mars."

On a question about the recent findings of NASA, which released a catalogue of more than 4,000 planets identified by Kepler telescope, he said, "There is no evidence of life on these planets, yet. The data we get from Kepler is the existenceof a planet, how fast they orbit the sun, and their size. With our new telescope, we will probably look at those earth-like planets. But we are a decade away from building it."

The data received from Kepler is primarily that the planet is there and how fast it is going around the star and how big it is. "Knowing how fast it is going around the star, we can state how far it is from the sun whether it is in the habitable zone," he added.

NASA has been searching for intelligent life outside the Earth for the past seven decades, but has not found an answer yet. Kepler space telescope has added 219 new planets, 10 of which are near-Earth size, having similar temperature. But, there is no evidence of life yet, James said. When asked whether NASA stepping aside and letting the private players like Elon Musk and Virgin Atlantic take over space exploration, James said, "Their business model is getting into lower cost orbit. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are trying to lower the cost of orbit and get humans there. That is a good thing. But doing the science, which is what NASA does, needs a lot of money. So, you will not find the others building missions to measure soil moisture or gravity. NASA is about answering all those scientific questions.