India follows up Mars orbiter with successful space observatory launch

ASTROSAT in orbit, let the science begin


India's space agency has successfully launched the country's first space observatory, the long-awaited ASTROSAT.

The satellite was the main payload for a mission by the country's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-30, along with four US satellites, one from Canada, and one from Indonesia.

The multi-wavelength observatory is now in a 650 km altitude low-Earth orbit. It's designed to combine sensitive, simultaneous observations in the visible, ultra-violet, and X-ray wavelengths.

According to Science Alert, “the satellite’s primary objectives are to study binary star systems containing neutron stars and black holes, estimate the magnetic fields of neutron stars, and study star birth regions and high-energy processes in systems beyond our galaxy. ASTROSAT will also detect new x-ray sources in the sky and perform a limited deep field survey of the Universe in ultraviolet.”

The satellite has a five-year design lifespan, but as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) notes, with good luck it could yield science for as long as ten years.

ASTROSAT is the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO's) largest project since its Mars orbiter launch in September 2014.

The low orbit means ASTROSAT won't last as long as the Hubble Space Telescope, and it's much smaller, meaning it won't have Hubble's famed precision.

The satellite's instruments include the Large Area Xenon Proportional Counters (LAXPAC), a soft X-Ray telescope (SXT), and the Cadmium-Zinc-Telluride Imager, all of which will study the X-Ray bands; and twin UV instruments that reach into the optical bands.

The TIFR boffins are particularly excited about LAXPC, which they call “the only instrument in the world that will be able to study X-ray intensity fluctuations of cosmic objects on time scales as small as a milli-second. This will be essential to probe the fundamental physics of exotic objects, like black holes and super-dense neutron stars.”

On 29 September (India time), ASTROSAT's operators reported: “Charged Particle Monitor switched on, working normally. LAXPC pressure check OK. Solid State Recorder and Data Handling system health OK. All thermal and power systems OK. Telemetry of both S and X band are OK. System Time Base Generator switched on and functioning normally.” ®

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