Analysis: Another Feather in Her Crown
PSLV- C23 launch endorses India’s space capabilities.
He came, he saw and he conquered. This in brief sums up the first visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Indian spaceport in Sriharikota Island to witness the June 30 commercial flight of India's four stage space workhorse PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) – C23 rocket.
Indeed, an inquisitive Modi with his keen interest in space facilities and a deep understanding of the Indian space programme left the Indian space community thoroughly impressed. As a top ranking Indian space scientist puts it- Every question raised by the PM showed his concern for utilizing the fruits of space technology for the benefit of the common man. Congratulating Indian space scientists Modi said, “Today’s launch of five foreign satellites is global endorsement of India’s space capabilities.”
Needless to mention, Modi was delighted and elated to witness the spectacularly successful multiple satellite mission of PSLV which launched all the five foreign satellites in quick succession between seventeen and nineteen minutes of the take off of this 230-tonne 44.4-metre tall space vehicle. All the five satellites of the international customers were launched into intended orbits under commercial contracts clinched by the Bangalore based Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian space program. Besides its main payload of 714 kg weighing French Earth Observation Satellite SPOT-7, PSLV C23 carried14 kg AISAT of Germany, NLS7.1 (CAN-X4) & NLS7.2 (CAN-X5) of Canada each weighing 15 kg and the 7 kg VELOX-1 of Singapore.
This was the 26th consecutive successful PSLV mission.
The PSLV orbital odyssey has once again underlined the reliability and superb performance of this launch vehicle that has emerged as a cost effective vehicle for orbiting payloads of international customers into a near earth and middle earth orbits. Indeed, today PSLV which was originally designed and developed to launch one tonne class Indian earth observation satellites, stand out as a symbol of India’s modest success in the multibillion dollar global market for launching satellites. With this successful mission, the number of foreign satellites launched for a fee on-board PSLV has gone upto 40.
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According to K.Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) this was the PSLV’s third dedicated commercial mission since it started offering the service of launching satellites of foreign customers for a fee beginning May 1999. In September 2012, as part of a contract bagged by Antrix Corporation Limited, a PSLV mission had successfully put into orbit the 712-kg Spot-6 satellite that was similar in configuration to Spot-7. This PSLV mission also delivered into orbit a 15-kg Japanese nano probe named Protieres as a piggy back payload. Incidentally, since 2007, the Indian space agency has been active in launching satellites of foreign customers on commercial terms on a regular basis every year.
On another front, Antrix has entered into lunch services agreement with DMC International Imaging (DMCII), the wholly owned subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of UK, for the launch of its three DMC-3 earth observation satellites by means of a PSLV flight. It has also signed launch services agreement with ST Electronics (Satcoms and Sensor Systems) Pte. Ltd. of Singapore for launching its TeLEOS-1 remote sensing satellite by means of a PSLV flight. Antrix sources said that these launches are planned to take place during 2014-15 timeframe.
Yet another PSLV commercial mission envisaged for the second half of this decade would orbit EnMap, the German hyper spectral environmental mapping. With a lift off weight of 870-kg, EnMap would be the heaviest payload to be launched by PSLV under a commercial contract.
Incidentally, PSLV, which for long was the only operational space vehicle at the command of ISRO, created a sort of history by successfully launching India’s first ever probe to Mars, Mangalyaan on Nov 5, 2013. It was an augmented version of PSLV which did the job of orbiting Mangalyaan. A similar variant of PSLV was pressed into service for launching India’s first ever lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 in 2008.
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ISRO for which not even sky seems to be the limit is also working on realizing an advanced version of GSLV designated GSLV-MKIII. The 630-tonne heavy GSLV MKIII has been designed to place a 4-tonne plus weight class satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. Incidentally, GSLV-MKIII would be the vehicle of choice for launching India’s manned space capsule into near earth orbit. Of course, the Modi led Government should approve India’s manned space flight mission planned for the second half of this decade without any delay. For the Manmohan Singh led UPA-II government that was neck deep in “scams and scandals ” had had no time and interest to give clearance to this nationally important space mission that has all the potentials to turn Indian into a “super space power”.
-Radhakrishna Rao (The writer can be contacted at 1921,5th Cross,2nd Phase JP Nagar Bangalore-560078)