Intro : A few days after the successful completion of a year around the Red planet by its first inter-planetary
mission – the Mars Orbiter, the ISRO on September 28 launched its first dedicated multi wavelength space observatory into space, besides six satellites for Canada, Indonesia and the United States.
A centre of excellence with a global standing, ISRO has made Bharat proud by setting new records and creating history in space exploration. Not surprisingly then, the September 28 flawless mission of the four stage, much acclaimed Bharateeya space workhorse, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was outstanding for a variety of reasons. First, its main payload the 1513-kg space based astronomy research observatory, Astrosat, which was placed into a 650-km orbit, is a significant Bharateeya contribution to the original, high end space based astrophysical research. Second for the first time, four satellites from US, which had in early 1990s imposed sanction on ISRO for its efforts to get cryogenic propulsion system for Russia, were launched at the head of this PSLV mission. Significantly, five more US origin satellites will be launched by PSLV flights under a contract bagged by the Bengaluru based Antrix Corporation, the Bangalore based commercial arm of the Indian space programme. Third, this PSLV mission carried an impressive luggage comprising as many as seven satellites including one each from Indonesia and Canada with a total take-off weight 1631-kg. Moments after this flawless PSLV orbital mission, a beaming AS Kiran Kumar, Chairman ISRO, said, “Today is one of the eventful days for us .Our PSLV has once again proved to be a workhorse”. Indeed, after a smooth take-off from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota island, an augmented version of PSLV weighing 320- tonne and standing 45-metres tall successfully accomplished its mission of delivering seven satellites into their intended orbit with a text book precision in less than 25 minutes. As pointed out by ISRO, the PSLV, described as a world class launch vehicle, has repeatedly proved its reliability and versatility by successfully launching satellites in different weight class into their designated orbits.
Incidentally, PSLV powered by alternate liquid and solid propellant driven stages, was originally designed and developed to serve as a workhorse vehicle to deliver Bharat’s one tonne class IRS series of earth observation satellites into sun-synchronous/polar orbit. However, with its launch capability being upgraded by ISRO in a phased manner, it was decided to harness the potentials of PSLV for launching satellites of international customer into a variety of orbits on commercial terms. Shri YS Choudhry, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, who witnessed this PSLV launch congratulated Bharateeya space scientists for the successful accomplishment of this extraordinary space mission and said that the Bharateeya space programme was moving ahead “exactly as per the vision of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. Going ahead, he noted that “relationships our country is now harnessing and nourishing is the reason why ISRO was able to launch American satellites from the Bharateeya soil”.
With the successful accomplishment of this mission designated PSLV-C30, Bharat has set a record of launching as many as 51 satellites belonging to international customers hailing from 20 countries. The versatile and trusted PSLV has also logged a record of launching as many as 84 satellites since it attained operational status. In 2008, PSLV had created a sort of history for most number of satellites placed in orbit with the launch of as many as ten satellites simultaneously.
“Astrosat is very special due to the choice of instruments it carries to study cosmic sources in multi wavelength,” says Kiran Kumar. This multi wavelength astronomy research satellite can be considered a miniature, scaled down version of Hubble Space Telescope (HST) which had created a sort of revolution in astrophysical research. Described as a landmark space science endeavour of Bharat, Astrosat would open up a new, exciting window for astrophysical research by simultaneously observing the universe in the visible, ultra violet and X-ray regions of the electro-magnetic spectrum. As envisaged now, Astrosat will produce an estimated 300 terabyte of data, the analysis of which would throw fresh light on the study of time variable cosmic sources of radiation.
In particular, Astrosat will study stars, quasars, pulsars, supernovae remnants, black holes and active galactic nuclei over a period of its active five years’ lifespan.
On another front, this mission has proved to hilt the reliability and robustness of PSLV. This is the thirty first flight of PSLV which has so far logged thirty successful missions. Since its take-off in the first half of 1990s, PSLV has suffered just a solitary partial failure. This also happens to be the tenth mission of PSLV in its augmented XL avatar.
Looking ahead, with the three stage, high performance Mark II version of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) which had its second successful flight with an Bharateeya made cryogenic engine stage in August this year all poised to join the PSLV for launching commercial payloads on commercial terms, ISRO would need to augment its infrastructure with a focus on boosting the frequency of its launches through a shortened turn around term. This implies that ISRO would need to set up a second launch centre besides encouraging Bharateeya industries to float consortiums capable of delivering satellites and launch vehicles in a ready to use condition. Certainly, ISRO will not lag behind in taking up the challenge of expanding the scope of Bharateeya commercial launch service through the timely augmentation of facilities and infrastructure by harnessing the potentials of the Bharateeya industry. Indeed, the strides made by the Bharateeya space agency have reinforced Bharat’s leadership position in space exploration.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is a columnist who writes on science tech and defence related issues)