Bangalore, May 9: The country that sent man to moon first will put machines aboard India’s unmanned lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-I, expected to be launched in 2008.
The US and India today signed a formal pact for placing on board two American scientific instruments, marking the first visit of a Nasa chief to India in over three decades.
Three Indian space centres are still under US sanctions, but the agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) will lead to the first American science payloads on an Indian spacecraft.
Nasa administrator Michael Griffin signed the memorandum of understanding with Isro.
Griffin, who is on his maiden visit to Indian space centres, was fulsome in his praise of Isro. “I never doubted your capability. I went to graduate school with a lot of Indian aviation engineers,” Griffin said.
The two US-made instruments are among six foreign payloads (see chart) and five Indian-made instruments to be squeezed onto the lunar orbiter for investigations of the surface and the structure of the moon.
One American instrument called the Mini-SAR will help detect water in the permanently shadowed areas of lunar polar regions, while the other called Moon Minerology Mapper will help in mapping minerals on the lunar surface.
Two years ago, Isro had invited applications for extra payloads on Chandrayaan-I. It received 16 proposals, of which six were picked.
A space official told The Telegraph that this would be the first time American scientific payloads will go aboard an Indian spacecraft. In the past, Isro satellites have carried German scientific instruments.
Ironically, three space centres on Griffin’s itinerary -- the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, the Liquid Propulsion Space Centre in Mahendragiri and the launch centre in Sriharikota -- are still under US sanctions that became stiffer after the second round of nuclear tests.
Despite such thorns in the emerging Indo-US space cooperation, Griffin and Isro chairman G. Madhavan Nair steered through a packed press conference with the skill of trapeze artistes -- each holding out promises, but stopping short of going overboard with the new-found relationship.
Asked why the US still looked at Isro with suspicion, Griffin said: “I’m sorry for the past, but I really cannot answer that as I have been heading Nasa only for the last 13 months. I will take good words back,” he promised.
The Nasa administrator underlined that relations had improved between the two national space agencies for the last two years, especially after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US last year and President George W. Bush’s reciprocal visit a few months ago.
Nair said a joint working group was already in place and, with the strengthening relationship, both the agencies will share space data in the coming years along with improving space commerce. But he chose not to elaborate.
Nair said there was no discussion on the critical cryogenic engine technology. “Cryogenic technology development is totally an indigenous Indian programme,” he added.
US sanctions against the Indian space programme have contributed to the delay in the development of the indigenous cryogenic engines required for the large and extremely powerful geosynchronous satellite launch vehicles. In the 1990s, the US had also arm-twisted Russia into denying India cryogenic technology. Russia only agreed to sell a few engines.
The indigenous cryogenic engine is now undergoing trials at Isro centres.