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America and India to collaborate on Earth science and Mars missions

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Oct 2, 2014, 15:49 UTC

Sen—NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have signed an international agreement that defines how the two agencies will work together on a joint satellite mission to observe Earth and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars. 

Both agencies have newly arrived spacecraft in Mars orbit. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at Mars on 21 September, the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars. MAVEN will be taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.

ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first spacecraft launched to Mars, arrived 23 September to study the Martian surface and atmosphere. On 28 September, the Mangalyaan spacecraft used its Mars Colour Camera to take an image of Mars (above) showing the southern ice cap and a huge dust storm covering part of the northern region, from a distance of 46,292 miles (74,500 kilometres) above the Red Planet.


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) and Chairman K. Radhakrishnan of the Indian Space Research Organisation signing documents in Toronto on 30 September, 2014. Image credit: NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of ISRO, met at the International Astronautical Congress, in Toronto, to discuss and sign a charter that establishes a NASA-ISRO Mars Working Group to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration. They also signed an international agreement that defines how the two agencies will work together on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, targeted to launch in 2020.

The joint Mars Working Group will meet once a year to plan cooperative activities, including current and future missions to Mars. The working group will explore potential coordinated observations and science analysis between MAVEN and MOM.

“The signing of these two documents reflects the strong commitment NASA and ISRO have to advancing science and improving life on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This partnership will yield tangible benefits to both our countries and the world.”


The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, targeted to launch in 2020. Image credit: NASA

The joint NISAR Earth-observing mission will measure subtle changes of the Earth’s surface associated with motions of the crust and ice surfaces to improve our understanding of key impacts of climate change and natural hazards. 

It will be the first satellite mission to use two different radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to measure changes in our planet’s surface less than a centimetre across. This allows the mission to observe changes, from the flow rates of glaciers and ice sheets to the dynamics of earthquakes and volcanoes.

NASA will provide the mission’s 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, and the launch vehicle and associated launch services.

NASA and ISRO have been cooperating under the terms of an agreement signed in 2008. This cooperation includes a variety of activities in space sciences such as two NASA payloads, the Mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, on ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon in 2008. During the operational phase of this mission, the Mini-SAR instrument detected ice deposits near the moon’s northern pole.