Last week, at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), K. Radhakrishnan, signed two documents to begin what will be a landmark partnership between the United States and India to collaborate on future missions to study Earth and explore Mars. The charter sets up a NASA-ISRO Mars Working Group which will investigate strong cooperation between the United States and India, and it also included a signed agreement to define each agency’s role in the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, which is currently aiming for a 2020 launch.
As stated by Bolden, “These two documents reflect the strong commitment NASA and ISRO have to advancing science and improving life on Earth, this partnership will yield tangible benefits to both our countries and the world.”
In response to the National Academy of Science’s decadal survey of NASA’s Earth Science program in 2007, the agency formed plans for a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mission. This led to a relationship with ISRO under the terms of a framework agreement both space agencies signed in 2008 to eventually work together on future missions. The 2008 agreement included several space science activities, including two NASA payloads which were part of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon: the Mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) and the Moon Minerology Mapper. Mini-SAR found ice deposits close to the northern pole of the Moon during the operational phase of the mission.
The Mars Working Group will meet once a year to plan and create pathways to achieve the two agencies’ common goals involving Mars exploration. Currently, they each have spacecraft in Mars orbit. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) spacecraft, the first ever dedicated to thoroughly exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars, recently entered the orbit of Mars on Sept. 21. MAVEN’s arrival at the Red Planet was followed closely by the arrival of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which reached Mars successfully on Sept. 23 to study the Martian surface and atmosphere to learn technologies necessary for interplanetary missions.
One of the prime objectives of the cooperation between both space agencies is to learn how to coordinate observations and science analysis between MAVEN and MOM.
“NASA and Indian scientists have a long history of collaboration in space science, “ NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld remarked. “These new agreements between NASA and ISRO in Earth science and Mars exploration will significantly strengthen our ties and the science that we will be able to produce as a result.”
In addition, the agencies signed an agreement which outlines how they will successfully carry out the NISAR mission. NISAR will measure minute changes in the Earth’s surface associated with motions of its crust and ice surfaces and improve our understanding of climate change and natural hazards. It will be the first satellite mission to use the L-band and S-band radar frequencies together to measure changes less than one centimeter across on the planet’s surface.
Each agency will supply complementary pieces of the mission. NASA will provide the L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid state recorder, and a payload data subsystem. ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus, an S-band SAR, the launch vehicle, and associated launch services.
NASA’s NISAR program is being administered by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
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