10/21/2008, 00.00
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India’s first lunar probe to take off, seeking water on the moon

The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft takes off tomorrow to orbit around the earth’s satellite and analyse its chemical and mineral features. Asian nations are among the leading contenders in the space race.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India’s first moon spacecraft, Chandrayaan-I (lunar ship in Sanskrit), is scheduled to take off tomorrow at 6.20 am from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota, some 80 kilometres north of Chennai. It will be carried by an Indian-built rocket.

Vaguely resembling a cuboid prism, the Chandrayaan-1 satellite (pictured) is being sent on a two-year orbital mission to provide a detailed map of the lunar surface's mineral, chemical and 3-dimensional topographical characteristics, carrying high resolution remote sensing equipment for visible, infrared, X-ray frequencies. Polar regions are of special interest since they might contain water.

“The next step will be sending a manned mission to the moon for which trials have already begun,” said G.K. Menon, former head of the Indian Space Research Organisation. 

With this 80-million-dollar mission, India joins China and Japan as a member of the Asian contingent to the space club. China was the third country after the United States and Russia to send manned space mission into space, and is currently planning to send astronauts to the moon and to create an orbiting space station.

Last year Japan launched its first lunar probe, releasing two baby satellites to study the gravity fields of the moon among other projects.

South Korea launched three commercial satellites since 1995 and its first military communications satellite in 2006. 

In addition to being an important symbol of the country’s economic and technological development, these missions have important commercial ramifications. Still India has a long way to go to catch up with the United States, Russia, the European Union and China.

The new technology has also important military ramifications.

Since 1983 India has sent 21 orbiters into space, of which 11 are currently in service.

India made its first commercial launch by sending an Italian satellite into orbit in April last year. In January of this year, it launched an Israeli spy satellite despite Iranian protests.

In 2011-2012 India is scheduled to launch Chandrayaan-2 in co-operation with Russia's Federal Space Agency, involving an orbiting craft and an unmanned rover on the moon's surface undertaking chemical analysis. 

Moscow has been New Delhi’s main partner in space but India’s programme has been operating independently for some time.

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