The atmosphere of Mars itself would be a major challenge as it is extremely thin, less than 1% in volume than on Earth; Image: NASA
Scientists from India and Russia have collaborated again to work on a new mission to explore Mars. According to a researcher Yelena Karpovich, the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), this mission would involve a 'Marsoplane', a robotic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) meant to study the Martian atmosphere and surface.
This new Mars mission is being jointly developed by IIT Kharagpur, the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and is part of the pact signed between India and Russia in 2021 to deepen space cooperation. The pact was signed on December 6 of that year between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin for enhancing cooperation between ISRO and Russian space agency Roscosmos.
"The Mars robotic flying craft is being engineered by an international team that comprises computational fluid dynamics specialists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur," the researcher told the Russian media agency TASS. The engineer revealed that the work on the Marsoplane began after securing funding from the Russian Science Fund in April 2022 and the test flight is targeted in late 2024. "The scientific mission can include climatic, mineralogical and thermophysical studies, as well as the study of the Martian magnetic field," she said per TASS.
(Mars as seen from Perseverance rover; Image: NASA)
She also highlighted the challenges to this mission which are-- making the UAV lightweight, durable enough to withstand the dust storms on Mars, and making it compact enough to fit inside the rocket's fairing. The atmosphere of Mars itself would be a major challenge as it is extremely thin, less than 1% in volume than on Earth and majorly comprised of carbon dioxide.
Flying an aircraft on Mars is now being seen as highly plausible after the smashing success of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter. Designed for just five flights and to prove that a powered flight is possible in the thin Martian atmosphere, Ingenuity went on to fly for a record 45 times. The tiny helicopter also fulfills the criteria of being lightweight and durable as it weighs just about two kilograms and has lasted for two years.
(Ingenuity helicopter; Image: NASA)
Russia has been a trusted partner for India, not only geopolitically but in space sector as well. The relationship dates back to the cold war-era when Moscow helped launch its first satellite Aryabhata aboard the Soviet Kosmos-3M rocket on April 19, 1975. India has already been facing the heat for refraining from openly criticise Russia over its attack on Ukraine, although this has not weakened the time-tested relationship.
Apart from the Mars mission, Roscosmos is also assisting ISRO in the ambitious Gaganyaan program. The program will begin with a test flight later this year and culminate by sending Indian nationals to space for three days. Both sides are also jointly developing India's maiden mission to Venus, ‘Shukrayaan’ which was targeted for launch next year, but is at a deadlock since France pulled out of the project over Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. Nevertheless, Russia is willing to carry on with the project, although it might lead to a significant delay. Notably, Venus has emerged as a new exploratory site for space-faring nations.
US space agency NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) both have planned their respective missions targeted for launch in 2029 and in the early 2030s. Interestingly, US-based private launch-providing company Rocket Lab also announced its own Venus mission in August 2022 and is targeted for launch in mid-2030, although a delay is possible.