India’s Shukraya orbiter will study Venus for over four years

(ORDO NEWS) — The Indian Space Agency intends to launch its orbiter into Venus’s Shukriya An orbit in late 2024, more than a year later than planned, an ISRO scientist told NASA’s Planetary Science Planning Committee on November 10.

Maria Antonieta of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) detailed the status of the mission to the scientists preparing the new 10-year plan for NASA’s planetary science program. Shukraya will be India’s first mission to Venus and will study the planet for over four years.

ISRO was aiming for a launch in mid-2023 when it announced it would start work in 2018, but Antonita told the planning committee last week that pandemic-related delays pushed the Shukraya launch target date back to December 2024 with a fallback launch date around mid-2026 (optimal launch windows for reaching Venus are approximately 19 months apart).

Antonita said the Shukrayaan is currently scheduled to be launched on the Indian GSLV Mk II rocket. However, she said the team is also evaluating the possible use of the more powerful GSLV Mk III missile, which will allow Shukrayaan to take more tools or fuel. A decision on the launch vehicle is expected in the next three to six months, she said.

In its current configuration, the orbiter weighs about 2,500 kg and will carry a scientific payload consisting of synthetic aperture radar and other instruments.

Once launched, Shukraya will take several months to reach Venus, where it will enter a highly elliptical orbit 500 by 60,000 kilometers around the planet. Next year it will use air braking to bring the orbit down to 200 by 600 kilometers. This polar orbit will be the last used for scientific observation.

The main scientific goals of the mission are to map the surface and interior of Venus, while studying the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere and interaction with the solar wind.

Shukraya will also carry a suite of instruments capable of spectroscopic observations in infrared, ultraviolet and submillimeter waves to study the atmosphere of Venus. The possibility of phosphine being found in the upper atmosphere of Venus is exciting many scientists about the prospects for life there, although some scientists are still skeptical about it. According to Antonita, the presence of phosphine and other biomarkers in the upper atmosphere of Venus can be confirmed with the orbiter’s near-infrared spectrometer. The tool will also be used to detect and locate any active volcanism on Venus.

Over the past 30 years, only three spacecraft have entered orbit around Venus, but space agencies around the world are showing renewed interest in the second planet from the Sun. Earlier this year, NASA selected two missions to Venus to further consider launch opportunities in 2025 and 2028. The European Space Agency is considering launching an orbiter to Venus called EnVision, which will be launched by the 2030s. And Russia is working on the concept of a Venus orbiter and lander called Venera-D, which will be launched no earlier than 2023.


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