India has successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying the sun, adding to its achievements in space exploration. The spacecraft, named Aditya-L1, lifted off from Sriharikota, an island off the Bay of Bengal, at 11:50 a.m. Saturday local time (2:20 am ET).
Aditya-L1: A unique orbit and a suite of instruments
Aditya-L1 is heading to a special location in space called Lagrange point 1, or L1, which lies between the sun and Earth. At this point, the gravitational pull of both celestial objects cancel each other out, allowing the spacecraft to remain in a stable orbit with minimal fuel consumption.
This position will provide a greater advantage of observing the solar activities and their effect on space weather in real time, according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which developed and launched the mission.
The spacecraft is equipped with seven scientific instruments, four of which will be trained directly on the sun while the others will study solar wind particles and magnetic fields passing through L1. The main goals of the mission include studying the sun’s upper atmosphere, or corona, and various solar phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections — or massive expulsions of plasma from the sun’s outermost layer.
The information gleaned from Aditya-L1’s experiments will provide a clearer picture of space weather, or the term used to describe the magnetic waves rippling through our solar system. Space storms can have an impact on Earth when they reach our atmosphere, occasionally affecting satellites, radio communications and even power grids, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
India: An emerging space superpower
India’s first dedicated solar mission adds to the country’s status as an emerging space superpower. The launch of Aditya-L1 comes less than two weeks after India’s space agency made history by landing its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the lunar surface. The achievement made India only the fourth nation in the world — and the second in the 21st century — to land a vehicle safely on the moon.
Chandrayaan-3 is expected to conclude its mission next week, after collecting and analyzing samples from the moon’s south pole region. The mission aims to shed light on the origin and evolution of the moon, as well as its potential for future human exploration.
India has also been expanding its presence in low-Earth orbit, launching dozens of satellites for various purposes, such as navigation, communication, remote sensing and disaster management. In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars with its Mangalyaan orbiter, which is still operational and sending back data.
India has also announced plans to send humans to space by 2024, under its Gaganyaan program. The program will involve three crewed flights, each carrying two or three astronauts, who will spend up to seven days in orbit. India hopes to become the fourth country in the world to achieve human spaceflight capability, after Russia, the US and China.
India’s ambitious space endeavors reflect its growing scientific and technological prowess, as well as its aspirations for global leadership and recognition. With Aditya-L1, India joins a select group of nations that have launched missions to study the sun, including the US, Europe, Japan and China.