4 Ways ISRO Is Changing Space Travel Forever | Unveiled

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The Indian Space Research Organisation is revolutionising space travel in the twenty-first century. After so long in the shadow of NASA, ISRO is today emerging as one of the most important and successful space agencies on the planet. In this video, we look at 4 key reasons why India is ahead of the game!

4 Ways ISRO Is Changing Space Travel Forever

The Indian Space Research Organisation is one of the largest and most influential space agencies operating today. With a storied history that stretches back to the late 1960s, it’s played a key role in how space travel and exploration has developed in the modern world. And now it wants to push us further than ever before.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re exploring four extraordinary ways that ISRO is changing space travel forever.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (or, ISRO) was established in 1969, just one month after the Apollo 11 moon landings. For the first few decades of its life, it somewhat flew under the radar whilst America and Russia battled out the space race. But, nowadays, India is a major player in space research, and at the forefront of humankind’s loftiest ambitions. In this video, we’re looking at four of ISRO’s most exciting future projects.

The first is the Gaganyaan mission. Scheduled to launch in 2023, when it does launch it will be a watershed moment for India in space. The Gaganyaan is an orbital spacecraft, designed for low Earth orbit. But, more importantly, it’s also the first vehicle in the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme. It will take Indian astronauts - known as vyomanauts - into space for the first time, ever. ISRO hasn’t yet selected the three vyomanauts that will travel, but whoever they are they’re set to become national icons - like Neil Armstrong in America, or Yuri Gagarin in Russia.

Compared to some other crewed missions from Earth in the past, the Gaganyaan does have some fairly modest goals - sending its crew just a short distance away from home. In some ways, it might seem similar to Gagarin’s inaugural flight for the Soviet Space Program, more than sixty years ago. But no matter how far it gets into space, the most significant thing will be that it does get there. When Gaganyaan lifts off, India will become only the fourth nation to have independently sent people into space - following Russia, the US, and China.

Incredibly, though, by some counts Gaganyaan doesn’t rank as the most ambitious ISRO plan for the immediate future. That title could well go to the imminent Indian Space Station, today’s second way that ISRO is set to change space travel forever. Famously, ISRO isn’t involved with the International Space Station, that iconic, modular lab that circles the Earth from above every ninety minutes. NASA, Roscosmos and ESA are responsible for the majority of ISS visitors. With JAXA, the Canadian Space Agency and many other, smaller space agencies also contributing. But not ISRO.

Instead, ISRO plans to build an alternative. Which isn’t to say that India is against the ISS, only that it aims to offer the world something different. At this stage, details are scarce… but we know that ISRO plans up to a seven-year build, to produce a twenty-tonne structure. The project will begin after Gaganyaan achieves crewed space travel, and it will operate at roughly the same distance from Earth as the ISS does - between 200 and 250 miles up.

Naturally, the Indian Space Station might struggle to compete with ISS capabilities, at first. Crews onboard will be smaller in number, for example, and they’ll only be able to stay for a matter of weeks (rather than the months that some ISS astronauts enjoy). But, while the ISS is sometimes bogged down by the fact that it was first designed and built in the twentieth century, an Indian Space Station promises to be as modern (and twenty-first century) as possible. A space station for the future and perhaps a world leader, along with the Tiangong station from China - which is scheduled for completion in 2023.

India is striving to become a world leader in other areas, as well, though. Notably, the sun. The Aditya-L1 mission is our third way that ISRO is shaking up space exploration. While the primary focus within other space agencies tends to be either the moon or Mars, ISRO is throwing a lot of its resources at our solar centrepiece. Aditya-L1 is a complex probe set for launch in 2022. It will be stationed at the Lagrange Point 1, about 930,000 miles closer to the sun than Earth is. And, while we have seen solar probes before now - most notably the Parker Solar Probe from NASA - Aditya-L1 will study in never-before-seen detail.

Specifically, it will map the layers of the sun, trying to solve (for example) why our star is hotter on the outside. Intuitively, it doesn’t feel as though this should be the case, but we know that the sun’s upper atmosphere (the Corona) is about one million degrees Celsius… while parts of the lower atmosphere are a fraction of that, and “only” about ten thousand degrees. Aditya-L1 will also look at coronal mass ejections; what causes them, and how dangerous they could be in the future. Given the famous near miss that Earth had in 2012 - when our planet was effectively nine days away from a massive solar storm - this is one cosmic phenomenon that scientists want to be on top of.

From its position, Aditya L-1 will have an around-the-clock, unimpeded view of the sun. Therefore, it will also chart precisely how it affects the solar system, and also how it shapes the climate systems on Earth. Of course, we broadly know that the sun gives us heat but, in an age where we’re trying to make sense of climate change, we need to know more. Two of Aditya L-1’s payloads, for example, the Plasma Analyser Package and the Solar Wind Particle Experiment, will specifically look at how solar wind forms and how it’s distributed. From there, ISRO will gain a better-than-ever understanding of energy in the solar system.

Finally, though, while the promise of crewed missions, a new space station, and a state-of-the-art sun study is exciting…where ISRO is really making waves is in its fundamental structure. We know that for so many years it has worked as though in the shadow of NASA, Roscosmos and some others, but now it’s setting the tone for all those other agencies with IN-SPACe. The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (or, IN-SPACe) was first announced in the summer of 2020. And it actually isn’t a direct part of ISRO, but will instead work alongside it.

IN-SPACe is formed as a powerful go-between linking ISRO with the ever-growing private sector. In the twenty-first century, space has become big business… so much so that private firms threaten to get to the moon, Mars or anywhere else before any state-sponsored organisation does. Traditionally, ISRO has been open to partnering with other agencies and groups… but now the invitation is more open than ever before.

ISRO knows that it has some of the world’s leading facilities and brightest minds, but it’s still limited by budget. As we found in a previous video, it pockets around a tenth of the state funding that NASA does. And more than five times less than China, too. But, by opening itself up for private companies, it can still achieve all its goals and more. Of course, we have seen plenty of state-private partnerships before now, with NASA and SpaceX teaming up for multiple missions… but IN-SPACe is aiming for more than just a few one-off successes. It wants a web of science and technology, linking all the most influential groups, to accelerate our advancement. For supporters, it’s a model for how the space sector should be built in the years to come.

So, what do you think? Is ISRO heading in the right direction? Or should it be focussing on other things instead? In the coming years, it’s hoping to put humans in space, build a permanent residence in the form of a space station, finally answer some of our most burning questions about the sun and completely reshape its internal structure, while it’s at it. Plus, as well as all that, India has hopes for a Venus orbiter, a mission to Jupiter, and a Chandrayaan-3 follow-up mission to the moon - to put right the mistakes of Chandrayaan-2. Keep your eyes peeled for our next ISRO video, for more on those!

For now, we can see that its projects are set to make a huge impact on not just how we view space but also on how we appreciate Earth. ISRO is moving into the next generation of science and research in arguably a better position than it’s ever been before. America, Russia, China, and the rest… take note. Because those are four ways that ISRO is changing space travel forever.