His­toric En­deav­our!

ISRO recorded an­other ma­jor suc­cess when the GSLV Mk III, the heav­i­est launch ve­hi­cle pro­duced by ISRO, blasted off on its first oper­a­tional mis­sion from the Space Cen­tre in Sri­harikota.


THE IN­DIAN SPACE RE­SEARCH Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO) scripted his­tory when on Fe­bru­ary 15 this year, the In­dian space agency suc­cess­fully launched 104 satel­lites in a sin­gle mis­sion, set­ting what it says is a world record of launch­ing the high­est num­ber of satel­lites. The record thus far had been held by Rus­sia that in June 2014 had launched 39 satel­lites in one mis­sion.


ISRO recorded an­other ma­jor suc­cess on June 5 this year when the geosyn­chronous satel­lite launch ve­hi­cle (GSLV) Mk III, the heav­i­est launch ve­hi­cle pro­duced by ISRO so far, blasted off on its very first oper­a­tional mis­sion from the sec­ond launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Cen­tre in Sri­harikota, lo­cated in

Andhra Pradesh. The launch ve­hi­cle was car­ry­ing the GSAT 19, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite weigh­ing 3,136 kg and in just 16 min­utes af­ter liftoff and on at­tain­ing an al­ti­tude of 179 km from the sur­face of the Earth, the GSLV Mk III suc­cess­fully in­serted the com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite into its planned geosyn­chronous trans­fer or­bit (GTO).

In the next few days, the or­bit of the GSAT 19 will be raised from the GTO to the fi­nal cir­cu­lar geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit (GSO) by fir­ing the satel­lite's liq­uid apogee mo­tor in stages. Once po­si­tioned in GSO, the so­lar pan­els and an­tenna re­flec­tors of the satel­lite will be de­ployed and its in-or­bit test­ing of pay­loads will be com­pleted af­ter which the satel­lite will be de­clared oper­a­tional.


The project to de­velop the GSLV Mk III, a three-stage, heavylift launch ve­hi­cle, was ini­ti­ated in 2002. Much of the time was spent painstak­ingly de­vel­op­ing an in­dige­nous cryo­genic en­gine that uses liq­uid oxy­gen and liq­uid hy­dro­gen as pro­pel­lants. The ve­hi­cle has two solid strap-on mo­tors, a core liq­uid-fu­elled booster and a high thrust cryo­genic up­per stage, the first In­dian rocket to be equipped with this en­gine. In­ci­den­tally, the cryo­genic en­gine that alone weighs 25 tonnes, has been de­vel­oped in­dige­nously by ISRO and to­day, In­dia can boast of being one of the six na­tions in the world to possess this tech­nol­ogy. The maiden sub­or­bital test flight of the GSLV was suc­cess­fully con­ducted on De­cem­ber 18, 2014. On this mis­sion that was pri­mar­ily aimed at test­ing its struc­tural sta­bil­ity and aero­dy­nam­ics, the rocket had car­ried a pay­load of 3.7 tonnes.

How­ever, on this mis­sion, the third stage of the rocket was not pow­ered by a cryo­genic en­gine as it was not yet fully de­vel­oped. The GSLV Mk III that has been de­vel­oped at a cost of Rs 300 crore and that has earned the so­bri­quet of ‘Bahubali’, in­cor­po­rates sev­eral ad­vanced space­craft tech­nolo­gies in the ar­eas of solid, liq­uid and cryo­genic rocket propul­sion.

It is re­garded by ISRO as “In­dia’s rocket of the fu­ture that will carry In­dian as­tro­nauts into space.” A no­table fea­ture of the project is that the GSLV Mk III has largely in­dige­nous com­po­nents with min­i­mal de­pen­dence on im­ported com­po­nents. In terms of size, the rocket is 43 me­tres tall which is as high as a 13-storey build­ing and weighs 640 tonnes which is as much as five fully loaded jumbo jet air­lin­ers or 200 Asian ele­phants.

The GSLV Mk III is slightly shorter than the Mk II ver­sion which is around 49 me­tres tall, but is more pow­er­ful. It is de­signed to carry pay­loads up to 4,000 kg which is twice the ca­pa­bil­ity of the GSLV Mk II and place it into GTO or about ten tonnes into low earth or­bit (LEO).


The GSLV Mk III is a tech­no­log­i­cal marvel and is in­deed a game changer. It also rep­re­sents a quan­tum leap in the ca­pa­bil­ity of ISRO re­lated to the pro­duc­tion of satel­lite launch vehicles. Suc­cess of the GSLV Mk III is clear ev­i­dence that In­dia has mas­tered the tech­nolo­gies that has lit­er­ally pro­pelled the nation into the elite group of space far­ing coun­tries.

ISRO is now look­ing at a project to grad­u­ate into the regime of manned space flights in a time frame of seven years. For this ef­fort, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has sought funding from the gov­ern- ment to the tune of ` 12,000 crore. If ISRO is suc­cess­ful in send­ing a hu­man being into space and af­fect a suc­cess­ful re­cov­ery, In­dia would then be the fourth nation af­ter Rus­sia, the United States and China to have a suc­cess­ful hu­man space flight pro­gramme. ISRO is even con­tem­plat­ing to send a woman on the maiden flight into space which in it­self will be a his­tor­i­cal feat!


This lat­est mis­sion of the suc­cess­ful launch of the GSLV Mk III by ISRO is not only an un­prece­dented tech­no­log­i­cal suc­cess, it is sig­nif­i­cant from the com­mer­cial point of view as well. This suc­cess will help ISRO gar­ner a greater share of the $300-mil­lion global com­mer­cial satel­lite launch market as well as earn for­eign ex­change for the nation. With a pay­load ca­pac­ity of 1.5 tonnes, the highly re­li­able work­horse, the po­lar satel­lite launch ve­hi­cle (PSLV) has recorded 39 suc­cess­ful launches so far. Also, with the GSLV Mk II with a liftoff mass of 415 tonnes and a pay­load ca­pac­ity of 2.3 tonnes and now the GSLV Mk III ca­pa­ble of lift­ing four tonnes, ISRO is no longer de­pen­dent on for­eign space pow­ers to launch satel­lites for the nation.

In fact, in the mis­sion in Fe­bru­ary this year, of the 104 satel­lites atop the GSLV Mk II, 101 were from in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers. The other ma­jor ad­van­tage ISRO en­joys is that its mis­sions are un­der­taken at rel­a­tively lower cost as com­pared to the other ma­jor space far­ing na­tions of the world. For ex­am­ple, a mis­sion by ISRO that in­volved plac­ing a satel­lite in an or­bit around Mars cost just $67 mil­lion as com­pared with NASA's Maven Mars mis­sion that car­ried a price tag of $671 mil­lion. ISRO's com­mer­cial arm An­trix levies a charge of about $3 mil­lion to launch a satel­lite into space in re­cent years, far less than other space agencies.

As the revenue from satel­lite launch mis­sions is di­rectly pro­por­tional to the weight of the satel­lite or satel­lites launched, the GSLV Mk III will cer­tainly gen­er­ate rich div­i­dends through higher revenue.


The suc­cess of this maiden launch is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant as ISRO has been plagued in the past with a num­ber of fail­ures in maiden launches in 1979, 1993 and 2001. It is heart­en­ing to note that sci­en­tists at ISRO have learnt lessons from the fail­ures in the past, have over­come the in­nu­mer­able hur­dles both tech­no­log­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic de­spite being hand­i­capped on ac­count of no as­sis­tance from abroad. How­ever, even when con­fronted with all these im­ped­i­ments, to­day ISRO is undoubtedly better pre­pared to take on the chal­lenges in the fu­ture.

While there may be good rea­son for ISRO to cel­e­brate at the suc­cesses par­tic­u­larly in the re­cent past, the In­dian space agency can­not af­ford to rest on its lau­rels as there are chal­lenges ahead that the or­gan­i­sa­tion would have to en­counter. Cur­rently, while ISRO has de­vel­oped the ca­pa­bil­ity to han­dle com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites weigh­ing up to four tonnes, the global trend ap­pears to be that the weight of com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites is go­ing up pro­gres­sively. There is now a re­quire­ment of de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity to launch com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites weight­ing around six tonnes or even more in the times to come. It is quite ob­vi­ous that ISRO has even higher mountains to scale on the road ahead.



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