India's Aditya-L1 reaches orbit – a groundbreaking success in solar exploration

In September, India launched Aditya-L1, its first sun-studying spacecraft.

India's Aditya-L1 reaches orbit – a groundbreaking success in solar exploration
Source: ISRO

The backstory: For decades, space agencies worldwide have teamed up to explore the solar system. One focus is studying the sun so that we can predict space weather and shield Earth from disruptions. These disruptions – things like magnetic waves – can affect satellites, communication systems and power grids. 

The journey began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite and then the first human into space in 1961. In the 1960s, NASA's Pioneer program started uncovering solar system mysteries, followed by Japan, Europe and China launching solar observatory missions into Earth's orbit. NASA's Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is a standout, getting closer to the sun's surface than any other spacecraft.

India joined the cosmic quest in 2008 with its lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1. In 2014, it entered Mars' orbit with the satellite Mangalyaan, and the country is eyeing a three-day crewed mission into Earth's orbit this year. Collaborative plans with Japan for a 2025 moon mission and an orbital mission to Venus in the next two years demonstrate India's ambitious space program. 

More recently: Last August, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) landed Chandrayaan-3 on the moon, making India the fourth globally and second in the 21st century to achieve a moon landing. Then, in September, India launched Aditya-L1, its first sun-studying spacecraft. Positioned strategically at Lagrange Point L1 between the sun and Earth, Aditya-L1 would be able to observe solar activities, delving into the sun's upper atmosphere and studying phenomena like coronal mass ejections.

The development: India's Aditya-L1 has now successfully reached its intended orbit after a four-month journey. The spacecraft is orbiting L1, positioned around 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, offering clear views of the sun. This milestone improves the scientific community's ability to study the Sun-Earth System. 

Named after a Hindu sun deity, Aditya-L1 has seven scientific instruments to study the sun, solar wind particles and magnetic fields. Currently, at just 1% of the distance between Earth and the sun, the spacecraft is in a stable orbit, setting the stage for major discoveries in solar science.

Key comments:

“On this joyous occasion … I would like to address all the people of the world,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. “India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone. This is a year in which the world is witnessing India’s G20 presidency. Our approach of one Earth, one family, one future is resonating across the globe. This human-centric approach that we present and we represent has been welcome universally. Our moon mission is also based on the same human-centric approach. Therefore, this success belongs to all of humanity, and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future.”

“Our tireless scientific efforts will continue in order to develop better understanding of the Universe for the welfare of entire humanity," said Prime Minister Modi on X when Aditya-L1 was launched in September. 

"India has a long tradition of looking at the sun from the ground … but there are limitations of looking at the sun from the ground because you can only see the lower atmosphere of the sun. So this was very, very important that we could go to the space," said Dipankar Banerjee, director of ARIES.