Aditya-L1 now occupies a ‘halo’ orbit at the L1 point, approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth
Over four months following the historic Moon landing, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has achieved yet another remarkable feat by successfully placing its Aditya-L1 spacecraft into a designated orbit around the L1 point in the Earth-Sun system. This significant accomplishment marks India’s first dedicated mission to study the Sun, demonstrating ISRO’s prowess in executing complex and advanced space missions.
Aditya-L1 now occupies a ‘halo’ orbit at the L1 point, approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, where the gravitational effects of the Earth and the Sun balance out. This stable position allows the spacecraft to observe the Sun continuously for the next five years. The L1 point’s unique characteristics make it an ideal location for minimizing station-keeping maneuvers, reducing fuel consumption, and ensuring an uninterrupted view of the Sun.
ISRO Chairman S Somanath emphasized the precision required in placing Aditya-L1 into the ‘halo’ orbit, involving corrections to maintain the spacecraft’s proper orientation. The insertion maneuver demanded a cumulative velocity adjustment of approximately 31 meters per second. This precise orbital placement is crucial to prevent the spacecraft from deviating and escaping from the L1 point.
The Aditya-L1 spacecraft follows a periodic orbit along the Sun-Earth line, with an orbital period of about 177.86 Earth days. The success of this insertion not only showcases ISRO’s capabilities in executing complex orbital maneuvers but also instills confidence for future interplanetary missions.
Placing Aditya in the ‘halo’ orbit presented unique challenges compared to typical satellite orbits around celestial bodies like Earth, Moon, or Mars. The L1 orbit is almost perpendicular to the line joining the Earth and the Sun, making insertion maneuvers more intricate. Professor A N Ramaprakash, associated with the Aditya mission, highlighted the complexity of this maneuver, requiring challenging adjustments even after insertion.
The successful orbital insertion, announced by Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Prasad, prompted a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi commended the accomplishment as another landmark in India’s space endeavors, praising the dedication of scientists involved in executing one of the most complex space missions.
ISRO now joins NASA and the European Space Agency as the third space agency to station a spacecraft at the L1 point for solar observations. The insertion into the ‘halo’ orbit occurred 127 days after Aditya-L1’s launch on September 2, 2023, following closely on the heels of Chandrayaan-3’s historic moon landing.
The four-month journey to the L1 point is the second-longest undertaken by an Indian spacecraft, with the Mars Orbiter Mission holding the record at around 11 months. The insertion maneuver into the ‘halo’ orbit was likened to a car maneuvering on a highway, involving changes in speed and direction.
Aditya-L1 is equipped with seven payloads, some of which were activated during its journey. Initial data indicate that the payloads are functioning as expected, with some detecting and monitoring solar activities such as flares. The Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (SUIT) payload, developed by Professor Ramaprakash, is among the instruments set to commence operations once the spacecraft reaches the L1 point.
Post-insertion, the payloads will be activated sequentially, with a thorough check of their health and calibration. The commencement of actual science observations may take approximately three months to ensure optimal functioning. Professor R Ramesh explained that a waiting period is necessary after insertion to allow any dust generated during the maneuver to settle, ensuring minimal distortion in observations.
In conclusion, ISRO’s successful placement of Aditya-L1 into the ‘halo’ orbit around the L1 point stands as a testament to India’s capabilities in space exploration and sets the stage for pioneering solar observations over the next five years. This achievement not only reinforces ISRO’s position as a key player in space research but also opens new frontiers for future scientific endeavors.
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