Thursday, April 7, 2011

Work cutoff for ISRO scientists

India Space Research Organization (ISRO) has established itself as a reliable worldwide service provider for the launch of light satellites up to 2 tons. However, they have not been able to replicate this success with heavier satellites. The team of scientists from ISRO will have their hands full perfecting the launch vehicles for the heavier satellites. The timetable calls for the launch of atleast three or four satellites this calendar year. The future of India's moon mission could depend on this success.

ISRO had earlier this year announced that it plans to launch a number of satellites within this calendar year. These include the launch of Resourcesat-2, Meghtropiques, Youthsat and X-sat satellites all scheduled for this year’s launch.

While the Resourcesat-2, is an advanced remote sensing satellite, Youthsat, is a participatory scientific mission with payloads from both Russia and India, and X-sat, Singapore's first indigenous satellite put off since last year are expected to be launched on board of PSLV C-16 during the next few months,

Despite the failures of two GSLV satellite launches last year, “The morale of our scientists remains high,” K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of ISRO told reporters a press conference after the crash. But the team at ISRO has been tight lipped and not willing to reveal anything more to the media.

Experts say the year 2010 was bad for ISRO. It had the recent failure for a heavy satellite launch -- GSLV-F06, rocket carrying a 2,130 kg communication satellite, which exploded 63 seconds after taking off from Sriharikota in December 2010. Earlier on April 15, 2010 GSLV-D3 developmental flight carrying GSAT4 onboard failed on take-off and plunged into the sea.

Experts say if these satellites had been successfully launched it would have guaranteed India as a super space power. Success or failures are part and parcel of space program and ISRO is no exception. NASA, Russians and the European Space Agency have also had many failures mixed with success.

In fact, according to a Wikipedia report, since 1991 when India launched the GSLV program it has been a mixed bag of successes and failures. It kicked off with GSLV Mk.I, GSAT-1, a satellite with a payload of 1,540 kg was termed as partial success. A number of subsequent launches followed with success and failures. So out of the seven GSLV launches so far four were categorized as success or partial success while three of them failed.

Interestingly, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is built on top of the earlier successful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). There was the addition of liquid strap-on boosters and a cryogenic upper stage to put a 5000 kg into an easterly low Earth orbit. Indian GSLV engine makes use of liquid hydrogen and oxygen that did not ignite properly leading to earlier failures.

The government has also constituted a review committee to look into the failures, the committee will now only look into the failure of the GSLV program and also future launches like the INSAT-3D and Chandrayaan-II. This is more grueling work for the ISRO team since the operation would require an indigenous cryogenic stage.

The country’s ambitious moon project, Chandrayaan II project is expected to be launched in 2013 or 2014 and the scientists are need to act fast to meet the aggressive time-line.

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