INDIA’S SPACE JOURNEY

Since 2001, India has also placed many satellites into the Earth Geosynchronous orbit, with it’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The GSLV was primarily developed to launch INSAT class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The ninth launch of the GSLV took place on 27 August 2015, when GSAT-6 was placed in GTO with the GSLV Mk II launcher. 

LVM3-X/CARE

Now ISRO is developing the LVM3, India’s next-generation satellite launcher, capable of placing 4-tonne class geosynchronous satellites into orbit. The first flight of LVM3, the LVM3-X/CARE mission lifted off from Sriharikota in December 2014 and successfully tested the atmospheric phase of flight and also carried out Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment. 

Powered by a cryogenic engine, the module reentered, deployed its parachutes as planned and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal. After this successful launch, ISRO’s former chief, Dr K Radhakrishnan, said

“we crossed a significant milestone in the development of next-generation launcher LVM3 that will not only free us within two years from dependence on foreign launchers for our heavy communication satellites but also attract a share of the global market”. 

Also, the unmanned crew module experiment opened up a new direction in space exploration”. ISRO’s success can be gauged by the fact that today we have a constellation of 26 Indian satellites that provide a variety of space-based services touching the life of every citizen in the country. Also, the PSLV launcher has an unblemished track record and is sought after in the global market, closely followed by the GSLV, which has a cryogenic engine that is made in India. 

Sriharikota Space Centre – The launch of 20 satellites 

On 22 June 2016, India successfully launched 20 satellites in a single mission from the Sriharikota Space Centre. This is the most number of satellites launched by India in a single launcher, though it is not a world record. The US has earlier launched 29 satellites from NASA, while the Russians had launched 37 satellites from one launcher in 2014. 

Nevertheless, it is a significant moment for India’s space programme. Launching several satellites in a single mission reduces cost and has enabled India to position itself as a key player in the lucrative international commercial space market as an effective but low-cost operator. 

Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). 

On the night of 23rd September 2014. 

India now joins the US, Russia, and the European Space Agency as the only countries that have successfully orbited or landed a craft on the Red Planet. What was different in the Indian attempt, however, was that it is the first time that such a mission has been successfully accomplished in the first attempt! It was done at a relatively low cost of USD 74 million, far less than the budget of the Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster “Gravity”. 

India’s MOM spacecraft, also known as ‘Mangalyaan’ (meaning Mars craft), entered the Red Planet’s orbit, making India the first Asian country to reach Mars. 

India’s Mars probe is now into its second year and is still going strong. As per ISRO, Mangalyaan is primarily a technology demonstrator, the current mission being focused on monitoring Mars for traces of methane, a gas that could possibly indicate signs of life on the Red Planet. Thus, while ISRO is essentially focussed on launching a large network of communications satellites, it is increasingly moving towards space exploration. 

Reusable Launch Vehicles -Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD)

India is now moving towards demonstrating its capability in Reusable Launch Vehicles to enable low-cost access to space, through its Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). Its configuration is similar to that of an aircraft and combines the complexity of both launch vehicles and aircraft. The winged RLV-TD has been configured to act as a flying testbed to evaluate various technologies, namely, hypersonic flight, autonomous landing and powered cruise flight. 

In future, this vehicle will be scaled up to become the first stage of India’s reusable two-stage orbital launch vehicle. The RLV-TD consists of a fuselage (body), a nose cap, double delta wings and twin vertical tails. It also features symmetrically placed active control surfaces called Elevons and Rudder. This technology demonstrator was boosted to Mach no: 5 by a conventional solid booster (HS9) designed for low burn rate. 

The unmanned prototype of the RLV-TD was successfully launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, to the edge of space on 22 May this year. It has taken over a decade to develop and reached an altitude of 43 miles before returning to Earth. ISRO plans to use the data from the small craft’s launch on autonomous navigation, hypersonic speed, and the re-entry process to launch a larger craft in future. 

While the focus of ISRO will remain on using space to better the lives of the people of India, as envisaged by its founder Dr Vikram Sarabhai. It is rightly also positioning itself as a major player in space exploration, in conformity with the needs of the times. Creating a reusable spacecraft has also become a market of its own. With efforts underway from NASA, the ESA, and Russia. Along with additional to private efforts backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Tesla’s head Elon Musk’s Space X. 

While yet not on the level of NASA and the ESA, ISRO has demonstrated the capability to compete with NASA, despite having just five per cent of NASA’s budget. 

The words of India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narender Modi, signify more than just capability: they signify hope in India’s future. “We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near-impossible,” he said, after the launch of Mangalyaan. ISRO has come a long way from the time when it first launcher was transported on a bicycle. Indeed, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

Ms Geetika Kasturi is a freelance writer. Currently, she is the Publication Manager at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).

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