Gi­ant Leap

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

Indian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s suc­cess­ful launch of GSLV Mk III from the Satish Dhawan Space Cen­tre in Sri­harikota has placed the coun­try’s heav­i­est satel­lite GSAT-19, weigh­ing 3,136 kg into a Geosyn­chronous Trans­fer Or­bit, which is a gi­ant leap in space, but comes al­most two decades late. The de­lay, no doubt, was beyond the con­trol of ISRO and it gave room for China to steal a march over In­dia by spread­ing its wings to as­sist neigh­bour­ing Afghanistan, Mal­dives and Nepal with their satel­lite projects.

The most sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of the GSLV Mk III launch is the use of a cryo­genic en­gine de­vel­oped en­tirely with in­dige­nous tech­nol­ogy. The rapid de­vel­op­ment of ISRO from its hum­ble be­gin­nings, launch­ing of small sound­ing rock­ets to study the mag­netic equator from Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram, to launch­ing of lighter satel­lites into pre­de­ter­mined or­bits from Sri­harikota has posed a threat to the near monopoly of the USA and the Euro­pean Space Agency in the business of multi­bil­lion dol­lar com­mer­cial rocket launch ve­hi­cles.

The USA mas­ter­minded the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime in 1987 which placed an em­bargo on trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy, to deny In­dia join­ing the space age. Glavkos­mos of the erst­while USSR came to ISRO’s aid by the out­right sale of seven cryo­genic engines. Through re­verse en­gi­neer­ing ISRO sci­en­tists were able to crack cryo­genic tech­nol­ogy. Cryo­genic engines used in ear­lier GSLV flights were based on Rus­sian de­signs but the one used on the GSLV Mk III is en­tirely of in­dige­nous de­sign based on gas gen­er­a­tor cy­cle in­stead of the com­bus­tion cy­cle of the Rus­sian model.

To make it op­er­a­tional, ISRO will have to un­der­take one more de­vel­op­men­tal flight of GSLV Mk III which can take any­where from six months to one year. Mean­while, ISRO has sched­uled its next two satel­lites, GSAT-18 weigh­ing 3.3 tonnes and the other weigh­ing 5.8 tonnes, to be launched by the Euro­pean space agency’s Ari­ane space­craft from Kourou in French Guyana. Once GSLV Mk III be­comes op­er­a­tional In­dia will cease its de­pen­dence on for­eign launch ve­hi­cles. In­dia has the po­ten­tial to be­come a leader in launch­ing satel­lites be­cause of cost ben­e­fits.

So far, ISRO has launched 180 lighter satel­lites from 23 na­tions us­ing its Po­lar Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cles. Buoyed by the suc­cess of Mon­day’s launch, ISRO has set its eyes on a 10-tonne pay­load launcher for which a semi-cryo­genic en­gine is be­ing de­vel­oped. The heavy launcher also has the po­ten­tial to un­der­take manned flights. The semi-cryo­genic en­gine is part of ISRO’s plan to de­velop Uni­fied Launch Ve­hi­cle for dif­fer­ent pay­loads in a sin­gle launch ve­hi­cle and Reusable Launch Ve­hi­cle. Semi-cryo­genic en­gine is cost ef­fec­tive com­pared to engines that use solid and hy­per­golic liq­uid pro­pel­lants. Its pro­pel­lants are eco-friendly, safer to han­dle and to store. While many na­tions across the world have the abil­ity and ca­pac­ity to de­velop satel­lites, few have the ca­pac­ity to launch them. In­dia has now joined this select group of na­tions and it is cause for cheer. See Vayu 25 years Back (Issue IV/1992).

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