In a major upward thrust to the Indian space programme, the gigantic 630-tonne, three stage GSLV-MKIII, the most powerful launch vehicle to date developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully accomplished its experimental flight after a perfect lift off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), the Indian Spaceport located about 90-kms to the north of Chennai on the morning of December 18.
The three stage GSLV-MKIII standing 43.2 metre tall, blasted off from the second launch pad of SDSC amidst a deafening roar to hurl the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) payload into an altitude of 126-kms. This suborbital flight of GSLV-MKIII carried out with an upper passive cryogenic engine stage would help ISRO evaluate the performance of the 3.7-tonne crew module developed for the Indian human flight programme. The crew module would be capable of carrying two to three Indian astronauts into a near earth orbit. The objective of CARE was to test the functional efficiency of the crew module during its critical re-entry phase.
Incidentally, the GSLV-MKIII would also be the vehicle of choice for the Indian manned flight mission involving the launch of the Indian crew module into the near earth orbit. Moments after the successful GSLV-MKIII flight Modi tweeted,” Successful launch of GSLV-MKIII is yet another brilliant triumph and hard work of scientists.” And according to K Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO, “India took up the development of this rocket a decade ago and today completed the first experimental flight.”
The major mission objective of this experimental flight of GSLV-MKIII being developed to build up a capability for launching satellites in four tonne plus class was to test the atmospheric characteristics and stability of the launch vehicle and as such no satellite was put into orbit by the vehicle. The full fledged launch of GSLV-MKIII carrying a functional upper cryogenic propulsion stage stuffed with liquid oxygen is expected to take place in 2016. The cryogenic fuel driven propulsion stage that the operational version of GSLV-MKIII would feature is far more efficient than the conventional rocket fuels as it would be capable of providing more thrust per every unit of fuel burnt.
Beyond its importance for the Indian manned mission, the GSLV-MKIII’s significance lies in the fact that it would free India from its dependence on the Ariane-5 vehicle of the European space transportation company Arianespace for getting its heavier class INSAT/GSAT satellites off the ground. For one, hiring a commercial launch vehicle is an enormously costly affair that could place a severe strain on the national exchequer. Secondly, during moments of crisis and conflicts, western countries led by US could come out with the notorious sanction regime to deny access to the services provided by the commercial launch vehicles. As such for India operating a high performance launch vehicle such as GSLV-MKIII makes for an immense strategic sense.
Thus the introduction of GSLV-MKIII, on the one hand could save India an enormous foreign exchange committed to hiring a commercial launch vehicle for orbiting its heavier class satellites. As revealed by sources in ISRO, India had paid something around US$80-90 million as a fee for getting its 3.5-tonne class satellite atop a procured launcher. And on the other hand, the introduction of GSLV-MKIII services would help bring in precious foreign exchange to the kitty of the country.
Not surprisingly then, the Bangalore based Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian space programme, is looking at the expansion of the launch services to make available the services of the three Indian launch vehicles-PSLV, GSLV-MKII and GSV-MKIII and their variants—for offering a cost effective launch service for satellites competing in the global space market.
Indeed, for India the GSLV-MKIII represents a giant leap in space. For Indian space programme took off in a modest way with the launch of a 9-kg sounding rocket from a space facility at the fishing hamelt of Thumba on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram way back in November1963. Coming as it does closely on the heels of the historic success of Indian Mars; the flawless GSLV-MKIII mission is all set to give a greater upward thrust to the quest of Indian space programme.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is a freelance columninst who writes on technology and defence related issues)