India installs antennas for planned moon mission: official
by Staff Writers
Bangalore, India (AFP) Dec 16, 2007

India has installed a pair of giant antennas to monitor a planned robotic mission to the moon next year, making it one of a few nations with deep space tracking ability, officials said.

The deep space network at Byalalu, 45 kilometres (30 miles) from Bangalore, will keep track of the Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission and provide command support during its two-year orbit around the moon, India's space agency said.

The facility, which reporters visited Saturday, consists of two powerful dish antennas 32 metres (105 feet) and 18 metres in diameter.

"The network will be used to send commands and receive telemetry signals, including massive scientific data from the spacecraft," said S.K. Shivakumar, director of the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Telemetry Tracking and Command Network.

By installing the network at a cost of one billion rupees (25 million dollars), India joins the United States, Europe, Japan, China and Russia in the ability to track deep space missions, officials said.

India plans to launch Chandrayaan-1 in April next year, joining Asian nations Japan and China in moon exploration. The spacecraft will conduct a lunar orbit at a distance of 385,000 kilometres from Earth.

The first robotic mission next year, budgeted at 100 million dollars, will be followed by another in 2012. Dates for a manned mission will be announced in 2008.

India's deep space network will serve as the base station for future planetary exploration, such as a planned mission to Mars, Shivakumar said.

It also will be used to track the country's proposed Astrosat, a space telescope designed to scout for galactic clusters, new stars beyond the Milky Way and a variety of cosmological phenomena.