Shukrayaan: India’s Venus Orbiter Mission May Ride On ISRO’s Powerful Gslv MK-III Launch Vehicle

By Indian Defence News

India’s space agency ISRO aims to launch its Venus orbiter Shukrayaan in late 2024, more than a year later than previously planned, an ISRO research scientist told a NASA-chartered planetary science planning committee.

T. Maria Antonita of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) detailed the status of the mission to scientists drafting a new 10-year plan for NASA’s planetary science program. Shukrayaan will be India’s first mission to Venus and will study the planet for more than four years.

ISRO was aiming for a mid-2023 launch when it released its call for instruments in 2018, but Antonita told members of the National Academies’ decadal survey planning committee last week that pandemic-related delays have pushed Shukrayaan’s target launch date to December 2024 with a mid-2026 backup date (optimal launch windows for reaching Venus occur roughly 19 months apart).

Antonita said Shukrayaan is currently slated to launch on India’s GSLV MK-II rocket. However, she said the team is also evaluating the possible use of the more powerful GSLV MK-III rocket, which would allow Shukrayaan to carry more instruments or fuel. A launch vehicle decision, she said, is expected by the time ISRO freezes the mission’s configuration and final set of instruments in the next three to six months.

In its current configuration, the orbiter weighs about 2,500 kilograms and will carry a science payload consisting of a synthetic aperture radar and other instruments.

Once launched, Shukrayaan is expected to take a few months to reach Venus, where it will enter a highly elliptical orbit of 500 by 60,000 kilometres around the planet. Over the following year, it will use aerobraking to lower its orbit to 200 by 600 kilometres. This polar orbit will be the final one used for scientific observations.

The mission’s primary science objectives are to map Venus’ surface and subsurface while studying the planet’s atmospheric chemistry and interaction with the solar wind.

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