The vagaries and dangers of space that Chandrayaan-3 is built to brave

Syllabus: Achievements of India in science and technology

The solar wind

  • The sun emits a stream of energetic charged particles, such as protons and electrons, moving extremely fast, called the solar wind. Since they are charged and earth has a magnetic field, these particles are deflected and guided towards earth’s magnetic poles. These interactions produce the radiant display known as the northern lights, spanning a spectrum of hues and intensities.
  • Equipment onboard space faring vessels have to withstand the impact of the solar wind or face catastrophic failure. The potential problems range from laptops crashing to a complete malfunction of critical systems, as was the case with Canada’s Anik E2 satellite in 1982.

Particles that sway polls

  • Generally, these effects are categorised as displacement damage and single-event transients.
  • Displacement damage results when the impact of a charged particle in the solar wind is so strong that it displaces an atom in an electronic chip. Such damage, due to which the chip’s performance decays over time, is usually permanent.
  • Single-event transients cause signals being transmitted by the spacecraft to momentarily fluctuate, corrupting the intended message encoded in the transmission.

Multiple protections

  • radiation-hardened electronics – use advanced engineering techniques to design and manufacture the corresponding electronics – experts meticulously consider radiation levels and possible damage mechanisms, and incorporate multiple layers of protective measures in both software and hardware components.
  • For instance, three copies of the same signal can be transmitted (triple modular redundancy). In the unwelcome event of bit corruption, the other two bits can ‘outvote’ the corrupted bit.

A hairy environ

  • In space, the spacecraft could experience enormous temperature fluctuations. Chandrayaan-3 itself may have to work through both -200 degrees to 200 degrees Celsius, depending on the satellite’s position relative to the moon and the sun. Sometimes there are problems that experts don’t fully understand, but nonetheless need to deal with.
  • Chandrayaan 3 has survived so far – and this is why, even before it attempts to land on the moon, it represents an important collective achievement, on the part of ISRO as much as the wider national community of people who acquired and synthesized the requisite knowledge, engineered and assembled the materials, planned for a host of eventualities and eventually launched it to the moon.

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