India is preparing to launch a solar observation satellite designed to expand our understanding of the sun and the effect of its weather on Earth, just days after it became the first country to make a successful soft landing near the moon’s south pole.
The Aditya-L1 mission will “take India to the forefront of solar space observation” and supply unprecedented data to scientists around the world, says Helen Mason at the University of Cambridge.
The Indian Space Research Organisation will launch the satellite on 2 September on board a PSLV-XL rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the country’s east coast.
Aditya-L1 is named after both the Hindu sun god and Lagrange point 1 (L1) between Earth and our sun, where the gravitational pull from both bodies is equal. It will be placed in orbit around L1 so that it can continuously view the sun without obstruction and benefit from the gravitational equilibrium by holding its position without using much fuel. Because the sun is vastly more massive than Earth, L1 is only 1 per cent of the way from Earth to the sun, which are, on average, 150 million kilometres from each other.
The objectives of the mission include studying why the sun’s corona is much hotter than its surface, as well as investigating solar wind and flares. The satellite weighs 1500 kilograms and will carry seven scientific payloads, all developed within India. Four of the payloads directly view the sun and the remaining three will carry out measurements of particles and magnetic fields from L1.
Mason says scientists around the world are excited to get their hands on the data, but will have to wait until 109 days after launch for the craft to reach its final position and start measurements.
“This will be unique because it has some instruments which are not carried on other satellites,” says Mason. “All the instruments are exciting and they will all push the boundaries of what we have at the moment.”