A year of technological advancement for India in space

December 22, 2014 08:31 AM



The year 2014 could be easily said as the rocking rocketing year for India - only not for the number of rockets/satellites launched - but also on the technological front.

The Indian space agency showed the maturing of its expertise in different spheres of space technology - inter-planetary journeys, flight testing of the critical cryogenic engine, testing its heaviest rocket for its stability during the flight and taking baby steps towards space missions by humans.

"It was was an excellent year on the technological and other fronts. The year started with the successful launch of the GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) rocket powered by indigenously developed cryogenic engine. We also launched two navigational satellites. We also inserted the Mars Orbiter in the Martian orbit. We also flight tested India's heaviest GSLV Mark III rocket with a crew module," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO),  chairman K. Radhakrishnan said.

The GSLV-Mark III rocket did not have the cryogenic engine to put a satellite in orbit. As the rocket's other engines were ready, ISRO decided to test the rocket with the crew module weighing around four tonnes - the targeted carrying capacity of a full fledged GSLV-Mark III rocket.

The Rs.155 crore ($24 million) space mission had twin purposes, the main being to test the rocket's atmospheric flight stability with an around four tonne package.

The second was to study the re-entry characteristics of the crew module - called Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment - its aero-braking and validation of its end-to-end parachute system.

The experiment is part of India's plans for a manned mission at a future date. The module did not carry any living being.

The 630-tonne rocket went up to 126 km. The crew capsule got detached and fell into the Bay of Bengal, 20 minutes after the blast-off. The descent speed of the crew module was controlled by three parachutes.

The crew module looks like a giant cupcake - black on top and brown at the bottom. According to an ISRO official, it is the size of a small bedroom and can accommodate 2-3 people.

Queried whether ISRO was dispersing its resources looking at a human space mission when the focus should be on developing GSLV rockets to carry heavy communication satellites Radhakrishnan said: "ISROs projects are not mutually exclusive.The cryogenic engine for the heavy rocket is under development and will take two years for the rocket to be flight ready."

In terms of satellite launch numbers, India during the year launched eight from its rocket port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh (three Indian - 2 for navigation and one for communication - and five foreign). Its heaviest communication satellite - GSAT-16 - went aloft on European space agency Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket on Dec 7.

Radhakrishnan also agreed that one navigation satellite that was planned to be launched in 2014 did not happen.

"It will be launched in early March (2015). On the other hand, the GSAT-16 launch was advanced by several months as it was supposed to go up next March," Radhakrishnan said.

On a larger perspective, the year also saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the country's decision to launch a SAARC satellite, thereby willing to share the benefits of India's space technology with the members of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Looking forward, Radhakrishnan said India will launch five foreign satellites next year including three of Britain's.

He said ISRO will be completing the seven satellite constellation for India's own navigation system next year. These apart, GSAT-6 and GSAT-15 communication satellites and the Astrosat, dedicated to astronomy, will also be launched.

According to him, ISRO has 188 transponders - automatic receivers and transmitters of communication signals - and GSAT-16 will add another 48. In 2015, the GSAT-15 satellite will add another 24 transponders.

"We are looking at enhancing space applications for the central and state governments," he said.

On infrastructure development, Radhakrishnan said the construction of second vehicle assembly building at Sriharikota will increase the number of launches from the second launch pad.

"A study on constructing a third launch pad is in progress. We have to take into consideration the kind of launch vehicles - GSLV-Mark III - and other future rockets to be developed while building the third launch pad," Radhakrishnan said.

He said the health of Mars Orbiter is good and it is for the scientific community to deliberate the results of the experimental studies done by it.
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