With 100 successful satellite launches, ISRO in new orbit

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 12, 2018

SRIHARIKOTA : 12/01/2017 : ISRO Chairman A.S.Kiran Kumar and R.Sivan the next chairman of ISRO at a press conference at Sathish Dhawan Space centre at Sriharikota on Friday. Photo: K. Pichumani

Weather satellite was placed in orbit on Friday morning

India began its space journey in 2018 with a bang - scoring a perfect century of satellites launched into space. The PSLV C40 successfully placed the 100th satellite, Cartosat-2 series, a weather monitoring one into orbit in a smooth launch from the Sriharikota space port this morning. It also launched 29 more smaller satellites sequentially during a window of two hours of skilful manoeuvres.

Big boost

The launch will be a big boost in many ways for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It marks a remarkable comeback for the PSLV, after the set-back it suffered on August 31, 2017 when the PSLV C39 mission carrying the first private sector built satellite IRNSS 1H navigation satellite failed. The second important message is the confidence that ISRO has established among global customers. That we could get 28 micro satellites on board the PSLV C40 and launch them is a clear indication, said a jubilant AS Kiran Kumar, Chairman of ISRO.

The success also gives a fitting farewell to Kiran Kumar, under whose stewardship in the past three years the Space Agency has built a strong reputation with many launches, including the record breaking 104 in one go.

In turn it also sets up a blistering pace and challenge to the incoming Chairman K Sivan, Director of the Thiruvananthapuram based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, who is expected to take over later this month.

“Launch vehicle technology is complex, tough and challenging. That’s why it’s called risky business. Hence, we need success to build customer confidence and grow business. Present launch has done that," said Kiran Kumar. Every launch is a fresh test of a range of technology capabilities. PSLV C40 once again proves the mastery of ISRO on many of them. Along with the Cartosat and one more mini satellite of India, the launch vehicle put 28 satellites from 6 countries into the low earth orbit.

Buoyed by the growing business that Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO is attracting for the PSLV, the Government recently announced that it will fund the space agency’s efforts to develop an exclusive Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). This launcher can cater exclusively to mini and micro satellites. There is growing demand from private sector, research institutions and universities who want to put small payloads into low orbit for space data.

India offers cost competitive advantage vis-a-vis Big players like Arianespace, US, Russia, ESA etc. through PSLV. The SSLV can emerge more lucrative as ISRO can bring down its launch costs and offer better price to customers, instead of the present piggyback ride on the PSLV, which can then focus on higher payloads.

The present flight carried satellites from US, Uk, France, Finland, Korea, Finland and Canada. About 25 are nano satellites and rest are micro types.

The success also sets the tone for the hectic schedule of launches spread over the year. It will also push confidence for the upcoming GSLV Mark III Launch. GSLV is key to India’s big leap into space business and long interplanetary and Moon and Mars missions in future.

AS Kiran Kumar, ISRO Chairman, holding the model of PSLV C-40 seen with R.Hutton (left), Mission Director, K Sivan, the incoming ISRO Chairman, and Kunnikrishnan, SDSC Director, at Sathish Dhawan Space centre at Sriharikota on Friday. Photo: K. Pichumani

Chequered Journey

India’s satellite launch story did not have a great beginning. In fact, it began on a disastrous note. The first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) failed in the first attempt in 1979. The second attempt proved successful.

As it advanced into the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle, the going became tougher as both the ASLV 1&2 failed in 1987 &88. It was a only in 1992 on the third attempt, the ISRO tasted success. Then it moved on to the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV). Here again it was unlucky on its maiden flight in 1993.

However, after getting the act together and learning from failures it got everything right in 1994. There was no looking back for the PSLV and ISRO. In 42 missions, the workhorse has just failed less than half a dozen times.

On the satellite front, India’s journey began with Aryabhatta Launch from the Soviet Union in 1975. The indigenous Rohini 1 was launched subsequently and it grew from strength to strength into communication, remote sensing, ocean studying, geographical data collecting satellites being placed into orbit both from Arianespace Vehicle in Kouru and PSLV.

Lucrative Market

With the PSLV firmly establishing its niche strengths, the next challenge for the ISRO will be to operationalise the GSLV at the earliest. If it can add the SSLV in a couple of years, the space agency will emerge as a formidable force in the multi-billion dollar Launch Vehicle sector, where several private players like SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and are entering in a big way.

For 2018 ISRO has ambitious plans of having one rocket launch every month, with the mission carrying different payloads and applications. The focus will be on getting increased business by Antrix and strengthening the country’s own satellite based coverage.

With the firm backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who did a quick congratulatory tweet to ISRO, the space agency hopes to get increased funding like in 2017-18, when it got Rs 9000 crore. The future looks both exciting and competitive for ISRO.

Published on January 12, 2018

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