CHENNAI: Within a week after Chandrayaan-1 was launched in 2008, scientists had to abort a manoeuvre of the spacecraft as all ground stations lost visibility. But that did not hamper the mission, as the spacecraft used its own electronic brain fed with commands in advance to manoeuvre on its own. Six years later, it is with the same eBrain that Mangalyaan found its way to Mars by correcting its altitude and the position of its antenna and solar panels during its 300-day journey. Rocket science calls it autonomy.

With Chandrayaan-2, ISRO will once again demonstrate its mastery over autonomy when Vikram will soft land on the south pole on its own sans intervention from ground control. And that is going to keep India in good stead as ISRO plans future interplanetary missions.

“It’s like an aircraft on auto-pilot. Vikram will have only one chance. It has to see the landing place correctly, reduce its velocity and land with minimal impact,” said Chandrayaan-1 project director Mylsamy Annadurai.

Rover Pragyan, too, will work on its own. It will have the ability to ‘think’ it is not in the right position and move back to its last step if it does not receive commands from the ground station.

India has planned seven inter-planetary missions in the next 10 years, starting with Xposat to study cosmic radiation in 2020, Aditya L1 to Sun in 2021, Mars Orbiter Mission-2 in 2022, a date with Venus in 2023, Lunar Polar Exploration or Chandrayaan-3 in 2024 and Exoworlds, an exploration outside the solar system, in 2028.

Simultaneously, as it adds more satellites to meet its demands, monitoring and controlling from the ground could become humanly impossible. Injecting smarter satellites into orbit meant it can decide autonomously what, when and how to carry out operational tasks, like capturing images of Earth, analyse and process them before selecting important data for downloading to the earth station. This also allows satellites to communicate with each other and do tasks like identifying a target to be monitored continuously, like a moving vehicle.

“This is an electronics revolution. It simply puts intelligence into a satellite,” said TK Alex, former director of UR Rao Satellite Centre. “On the software side, India is on the top.”