History was made today at Sriharikota space launch centre with the successful 50th mission of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the workhorse of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
At 3.25 pm, the PSLV-C48 lifted off from the First Launch Pad (FLP) of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, carrying the the RISAT-2BR1 (primary satellite), a radar-imaging earth observation satellite.
The satellite will be used in applications such as agriculture, forestry and disaster management support.
Weighing about 628 kg, the satellite was placed into a 576-km orbit at an inclination of 37 degrees.
The PSLV-C48 also carried nine international satellites — six from the US and one each from Israel, Italy and Japan. These international customer satellites were launched under a commercial arrangement with NewSpace India Ltd.
The PSLV-C48 is the second flight of PSLV in ‘QL’ configuration with four strap-on motors. This was the 75th launch vehicle mission from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota, and 37th launch from the FLP.
As the rocket blasted off from the launch pad, to the viewers it emerged slowly from behind the thick tree cover trailing orange flame. It gained speed and zoomed into the clear blue sky with a thunderous sound, leaving behind thick smoke. At 16:26 minutes after the lift off, the RISAT-2BR1 satellite separated from the rocket; followed at 17:26 minutes by the first customer satellite; and at 21:19 minutes the second satellite.
The international satellites on board PSLV-C48 are for a range of applications. The US satellites were for earth imaging, multi-mission remote sensing platform, and technology demonstration; Japan’s was for radar imaging earth observation; Italy’s for search and rescue; and Israel’s for remote sensing.
Addressing scientists and officials of various customers at the mission control room, ISRO Chairman K Sivan said that it was a historical mission and declared that the 50th PSLV vehicle successfully injected the nine customer satellites precisely 576 km in to the orbit. This mission also marks another major milestone of being the 75th launch from SDAC, SHAR, Sriharikota.
For the last 26 years of PSLV history, the PSLV project was led by leaders such as S Srinivasan, who conceptualised and configured the vehicle, and Madhvan Nair, former ISRO chairman, who made the vehicle operational.
In the last 26 years, the PSLV has had five variants with the carrying capability increased to 1.9 tonnes from 850 kg. This vehicle has so far lifted a total of 52.7 tonnes of which 17 per cent is customer satellites, he said.
Today’s launch will be the last for 2019.
In 2020, there will be a series of launches using PSLV along with GSLV and small satellite launch vehicle.
The PSLV has launched satellites in polar/GTO orbit, and has also been used in Mars and Moon missions, and will soon be used in a mission to the sun.
“We will take up the challenges and will ensure that every mission is a success,” said Sivan.
Over the last two and half decades, the PSLV has proven its capability repeatedly with international clients queuing up to put their smaller satellites into orbit using the launch vehicle. This is not surprising, given that a PSLV trip is far more affordable than those on launch vehicles of other countries.
Between 1994 and 2019, the PSLV launched 50 Indian satellites and 222 foreign satellites for over 70 international customers from 20 countries. It also successfully launched two spacecraft — Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, which made its way to the moon and the Mars Orbiter in 2013, to Mars.
The PSLV’s long journey began with a disaster. On September 20, 1993, PSLV-D1, the first such rocket, launched from Sriharikota, failed to place the IRS-1E satellite into orbit. Thereafter it proved its credentials, with 39 consecutive successful missions till June 2017.
There was another disappointment on August 31, 2017, with the unsuccessful launch of the PSLV-C39. This was just a blip, though, and the PSLV continued to place satellites into orbit.
The most recent was on November 27, when the PSLV-C47 launched Cartosat-3 and 13 commercial nano-satellites after lift-off from the second launchpad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.