On April-19, 1975, from a remote location in Russia ( the then USSR) a space rocket called Kosmos-3M lifted off successfully with an on board satellite. Thousands of miles away, in India, the rocket launching event was a moment of anxiety, relief and pride. Why? The on board satellite in that rocket was “Aryabhatta” , India’s first indigenously developed satellite.
That was the beginning, the beginning of a long, intense, occasionally bumpy but successful journey by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Today, ISRO stands as one of the world’s finest space research organization, completing its 100th mission on Sep-9, 2012 with the successful launching of 2 foreign satellites, using our own satellite launching vehicle systems. From a country who depended on other nation to launch our satellites, India and its space programmes has reached a point where we can launch our own satellites from our own launch points, to sending unmanned mission to moon and even planning for a Mars mission in near future. The ISRO was once a single room office at Thumba-Trivandrum, scientists sometimes working in cow sheds! Today ISRO has grown up so big and so quick, that it has its centers all across the country. ISRO today has research facilities at more than 20 places in the country with multiple research wings at many of these centers. ISRO has collaborations with almost all other global space organizations, including the NASA and ESA.
The 1975 Aryabhatta satellite was in fact a “test” satellite. A test to see whether our country can develop our own satellites and we passed that test. ( Have to admit that the Aryabhatta satellite worked for just 5 days in the space. ) After Aryabhatta, the ISRO has deployed more than 60 Indian satellites, the RISAT-1 being the last one (24-4-2012). These 60+ satellites were launched at different launch sites, many in India and from the US, Russia, Europe so on. The list of all Indian satellites, with their technical specification, launch goal and general details can be found here which is an ISRO webpage link.
Other than launching satellites for our own mission objectives, ISRO has launched 29 foreign satellites, the SPOT-6 of France and PROITERES of Japan being the last 2 satellites, sent during the 100th mission (sep-9 2012) on-board the PSLV-C21 .
Here is a pdf list from ISRO showing the name and country origin of all the 29 foreign satellites launched so far.
Thus, India and ISRO has proved to the world that,they can build and keep up all kinds of satellites, let it be experimental, earth observatory and even Geo stationary satellites. Even Indian universities has made their own satellites and put them into orbit.
In space programmes, more than developing satellites, the toughest task is developing our own launch vehicle systems. Remember, the Aryabhatta was launched from Russia. India begin its research on developing its own satellite launch vehicles in the 1970’s itself and by 1980 India was able to launch our satellite (Rohini) using our own launch vehicle -the SLV-3 (Satellite Launch Vehicle). In 1993, ASLV (Augmented SLV) was successfully developed taking the Indian satellite-SROSS-C to the orbit.
The “Indian Revolution” in space launch vehicle was on its way with the development of PSLV (Polar SLV). Its first launch attempt in September 1993 was unsuccessful as it failed to take the satellite -IRS-1E to orbit. But after that, the PSLV carried out 21 continuous successful flights, the last one being today! Thus PSLV has one of the finest success rate among launch vehicles across the world.
Another high-profile launch vehicle system by the ISRO is GSLV (Geosynchronous SLV). Developed in 2001, the GSLV had 7 missions so far, but unfortunately only 2 was completely successful. The main difference between the PSLV and GSLV is in its pay load capacity, means the weight which the vehicle can take during lift off as well as the weight of the satellites to be deployed in the orbit. PSLV is capable of launching 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in Geo-synchronous transfer orbit. In the standard configuration, it measures 44.4 m tall, with a lift off weight of 295 tonnes. ( italicized words from ISRO website) while GSLV is capable of placing INSAT–II class of satellites (2000 – 2,500 kg) into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). GSLV is a three stage vehicle GSLV is 49 m tall, with 414 t lift off weight. The ISRO is currently developing GSLV mark III,which is a launch vehicle currently under development by the Indian Space Research Organization. GSLV Mk III is conceived and designed to make ISRO fully self reliant in launching heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4500 to 5000 kg. It would also enhance the capability of the country to be a competitive player in the multimillion dollar commercial launch market. The vehicle envisages multi-mission launch capability for GTO, LEO, Polar and intermediate circular orbits.
Another vital difference between the PSLV and GSLV is the difference in rocket fuel and rocket engine used. The GSLV uses Cryogenic engine in its 3rd stage, and the cryogenic engine helps the rocket to reach higher speed and lift off capacity. India’s attempt to build its own cryogenic engine can be considered only partially successful as of now. A GSLV rocket, using Indian made cryogenic engine failed to successfully take the satellites to orbit and hence India is using purchased Cryogenic engines for its GSLV rockets. But, research is in its full swing and the GSLV Mark-III most probably will be featuring our own cryogenic engine.
The success story of ISRO gets completed only by mentioning about Chandrayaan. Many of us know Chandrayaan as ” just a mission to moon” by India. But it is not, it is a far bigger project than you imagine which gave amazing results.
The world celebrated the news of finding water on moon by the NASA space mission and also the role played by Chandrayaan in discovering it. Recently, in a space science forum, i came across Indian’s stating that only the Chandrayaan Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was developed by India and all the equipments inside the vehicle are by other countries. Absolute non-sense. Chandrayaan contained a mass spectroscope developed by Indian scientists in India. It is called as CHACE- CHandra’s Altitudinal Composition Explorer and the CHACE results clearly showed the presence of water on moon. Its just not a claim, but backed by solid scientific evidence published in International Journals. (See reference below). But neither the Indian media nor the world scientific community accepted or gave importance to their finding at first, and NASA-M3 took away the major credit for the discovery of water. But later, the scientific community begin to accept the fact that, the CHASE did play a role in finding water on moon, but the Indian media still stays alien to giving publicity for such achievements and keeps going behind sensational stories which increases their TRP.
An upcoming project from ISRO, is going to revolutionize the Indian Transport System as well as the military strengths of our country. ISRO is planning to launch a series of Satellites ( 7 as of now) called as Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System. It is like the GPS (Owned and controlled by the US Govt) in terms of “what it is” , but the benefits being that its under our Governments control. A resolution upto 6 M from ground level can be achieved even in remote villages, enabling the citizens of this country information and access of road routes.
But more than the Civilian use, its the military advantages that makes IRNSS special. Other than covering India, the IRNSS covers 2000 km around India, bringing all our neighboring countries under our satellite watch, and in case of a war situation, missiles can be targeted at enemy nations with 100 percent accuracy with the help of IRNSS. The GPS, has less resolution on Indian roads, and in case of a global war, the US can deny access to those satellites and thus, our own satellite navigation system is a must. ( Other than the US, Russia is the only country with navigation system with global access. China has its own regional navigation system and India does come under their satellite ranges. China is also planning to make their navigational satellite systems global. Other than India, the EU, France, Japan are also developing satellite navigational systems)
Lastly, to every one who criticizes India’s space missions as “waste of money” , criticize occasional failures, and gives their “advice” that to spend these money on poor people, all I have to say is “come out of ignorance” .
The role ISRO plays in the development of our country is beyond the scope of this article. The100’s of TV channels you watch everyday becomes possible only because ISRO has put satellites up in the sky and the TV channels use the transponders on them for telecast! You talk at 1ps/sec in your mobile phone, remember the telecom revolution was possible only because of the numerous tele communication satellites deployed by ISRO. E-learning has made high quality education possible even in remote villages, thanks to ISRO’s dedicated satellites for education. Every day, every minute, every one of you gets the benefit of space missions by ISRO. Just because, you didn’t know it, is not the reason to criticize. The govt should pour more and more money to ISRO and allied science fields. The failure of GSLV as well as Cryogenic engine should be taken as stepping-stones to success. All the major space player countries has met with tragic disasters in their space programmes. The US, the Chinese, the Russians, every one had failed multiple times in their space missions. But a govt with will power, a scientific community with positive attitude and above all immense support by the people of those countries has taken them out of mistakes and now are space giants with little or no big accidents or failures in the recent past. India should get inspired from them and keep going with our missions. Note that the entire budget of ISRO since its inception doesn’t even makes up to the ANNUAL budget of NASA!More funding should be allocated to Science in India, the society should be made aware of the importance of science. More importance should be given to developing the cryogenic engine as well as successful launches of GSLV’s.
The mission to mars , Chandrayaan-2, Launch of GSLV mark3, development of fully functional cryogenic engine, satellite navigation systems- The list goes on. Hope ISRO carried out all its future programmes with 100 percent success rate.
Reference to CHACE results.
Planetary and Space Sciences, 58, 1567-77, 2010
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