In the past few decades, the space exploration research area has been strongly implemented in the most uninhabited places of the Earth. NASA has been conducting its space research in the confined habitat HERA, Concordia station in the Antarctic established by ESA has been operational for 15 years now and similarly, there are a few more analog space research stations by private companies like the Mars Desert Research Station. It is a very common prejudice that to explore space one must travel beyond earth but from a point of view of the space industry, the former doesn’t hold entirely true. Today, the space industry relies on detailed testing plans and a well-defined database for various instrument handling. The analog space exploration sites not just provides a platform for on-ground testing but also reduces the error rate for final space ready product by a significant amount. Until now these analog sites have been established mainly in the USA and Europe but the potential demand for space missions started having an impact on some of the developing nations. In my last article, I talked about the growth of the space sector in India, in addition, an Institute in India las laid its foot in the direction of analog space research in collaboration with a few NASA scientists, Australian and European researchers, and various other space research organizations. For the same purposes, they have chosen Ladakh as the most suitable place considering that its geological features could be of interest in future Mars habitat missions.
Recently, I got an opportunity to talk to the head of the Astrobiology Research Department of Amity, who is the backbone of this initiative, and here are a few insights into the roadmap of its implementation.
From a visitor's perspective, Ladakh is nothing but a cold desert with a breathtaking view in the foothills of the Himalayas. However, from the scientist's perspective, it is a reservoir of Nature’s science laboratory. Located at 7000 meters of altitude, the barren lands of Ladakh provide a great source of information in form of geological, technoic, and geographical features from an astrobiology point of view. A few years back NASA along with other space agencies tested its HABIT prototype in Ladakh as a part of the ExoMars mission as published in a research paper. Various landscapes in India like Tso-Kar and Puga in the foothill of the Himalayas, Matanumad in Kutch, Lonar crater had always been of great interest as mars analogs to understand their formation. However, Ladakh has proven to be most resourceful to establish a permanent analog space habitat for research purposes.
Who is eligible for research?
Until now the sites were only accessed by scientists for research purposes but Space exploration in the Ladakh project will give an opportunity to students, engineers, researchers, and those who think their research is relevant to the analog site. It could be anything from testing a portable weather monitoring station to rover excursion. Today there are many analog sites that provide an opportunity to set analog space habitats and give the opportunity to students to experience a gist of life on Mars. These missions usually consist of a logistic team, mission control center, and a crew who lives in a habitat for a certain time and perform EVA and other experiments. A few months back, I provided detailed information on the structure of analog missions in the following article: Analog missions: An opportunity for all into the NewSpace sector
Similarly, the roadmap of the space exploration analog site in Ladakh will open an opportunity for college students from various fields to perform experiments with either their team or under a recognized scientist, starting with activity planning in Jan 2021 with missions from Jun 2021.
Areas of research
Space doesn’t just inspire STEM field aspirants, it also inspires art and culture. There was a time when Einstein’s theory of relativity inspired Picasso. Similarly today there are many illustrators, abstract artists who are inspired by the mystery of space. This opportunity invites the pioneers and seekers of science, technology, art, and culture. Along with the ideas in Instrument technologies for space exploration, If someone is interested in an art exhibition that could utilize the geographical features of an analog site, you can register here either as a team or as an individual.
Logistics and Future roadmap
The mission is going to be in the form of an expedition similar to other analog mission in Concordia station in Antarctica or Mars desert research station in Canada. Selected experiments and the crew will get an opportunity to select the duration of weeks from 1 week to 1 month as suitable to their experiment. For the first mission, the teams would be living in camps in hostile locations with all the basic necessities and would be working with the science mentors. For future missions, a permanent habitat is being developed to simulate the confined spaces analogous to mars habitats design. With the establishment of habitats, a full mission scenario will be simulated in the field from performing EVA by analog astronauts to living in a confined space for a specific duration.