GSLV launch: A defining moment for Indian space capabilities

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 12, 2018

The GSLV-Mk III at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, in Sriharikota. | Photo Credit: PTI

The launch of the GSLV Mark III from the Sriharikota Space port this evening, for which the countdown is on, will be a defining moment for Indian space capabilities. It will establish ISRO's capacity to put heavier payloads into higher orbits, test a homegrown cryogenic engine and pave the way for sending humans to outer space in the long term.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is high on confidence given its track record in the last few years -- both with the performance of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the different versions of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle's success. But, first tests of the earlier versions of the GSLV have not been successful, hence, the big challenge.

Backed by Russian cryogenic engines, space scientists' indigenous research and the support of the domestic industry, the GSLV Mark III version has taken over one-and-a-half decades of work with investments of around Rs 300-350 crore, to finally be ready for launch.

GSLV-Mk III is capable off launching the 4-tonne class of satellites into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). It is a three-stage vehicle with two solid motor strap-ons (S200), a liquid propellant core stage (L110) and a cryogenic stage (C25). The first development flight will carry a 3,136-kg GSAT-19 communication satellite to a GTO. The countdown began on Sunday around 4 pm and the blast-off is slated for 5.28 pm on Monday from the SHAR Space port in Andhra Pradesh, says an ISRO statement.

The GSLV Mark III weighs about 640 tonnes, is as tall as a 13-storey building and is powered by a cryogenic engine which will use oxygen and hydrogen as propellants in liquid form to fire the heaviest rocket as on date by ISRO. Interestingly, several components and systems for the rocket, including propellants, have been developed and supplied by both big and small and medium enterprises, who have been closely associated with the country's space journey.

Once the launch system is proved, it will have the ability to place up to 10-tonne payloads. It will also establish indigenous expertise in a range of technologies and stake a claim in a lucrative market.

The excitement is heightened as the launcher can usher in an era of 'human space missions' by India. Though it is 56 years since Russia sent Yuri Gagarin into space (1961), and helped India's own cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma undertake a space trip in 1984, the competence to launch human space missions will establish the country as one among a handful of a nations to do so, which will in turn will boost space exploration and position the country to tap scientific benefits from such capabilities, says space experts. The space agency has been talking about a 10-year timeframe and indications are that the first human traveller will be a woman. Within the leadership hierarchy, including the launch vehicles, the role of women in ISRO has gone up visibly in the last decade.

ISRO has prepared a blue-print for human space odysseys in the future and has been developing technologies. It requires big-ticket investments and support from the Government, with industry participation. The low-cost Mangalyan (Mars Orbiter), Chandrayan (Moon mission), the first steps in re-usable launch vehicles and the recent record breaking launch of 104 satellites, maturing of collaboration with industry, along with the South Asian satellite, are seen as big confidence boosters for Indian space scientists to get it right this time.

Published on June 05, 2017

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