The Indian Space Program Progresses: The PSLV Launches 5 Foreign Satellites From One Launch


2014-07-02 India launched five satellites of four foreign countries from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre June 30 on a single launch, successfully putting them into their designated orbits in about 20 minutes.

This is the first time that a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the workhorse indigenous rocket of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), carried only foreign satellites, taking their tally to 40 since it launched the first foreign satellite in 1999.

India ’s space program began in 1975, and except for heavy satellites, for which ISRO depends upon the European Ariane, India uses its own propulsion systems. So far, India has launched about 100 missions with satellites.

India is yet to perfect the cryogenic technology required for launching heave payloads into space but there is some success with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) program whose Mark III version is under development.

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at hand to witness the launch. Apparently inspired, he described the mission success as “global endorsement of India ‘s space capability” adding that it made every Indian proud.

The Prime Minister at the Launch site. Credit: India Strategic
The Prime Minister at the Launch site. Credit: India Strategic

Mr Modi, who has initiated a campaign right from his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014 for good relations with neighboring countries, offered to build a SAARC Satellite to benefit them.

“Today, I ask our space community to take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite – that we can dedicate to our neighborhood as a gift from India.” This, he said, should have “a full range of applications and services” including for satellite-based navigation system. The footprint of the satellite should be appropriately enhanced.

Notably, Mr Modi has been pushing for reforms with Skill, Scale and Speed as his government’s mantras. He used the occasion to reiterate his emphasis on technology for the good of the common man. “I believe technology is fundamentally connected to common man. It can transform his life.”

The main satellite on board the 44.4-meter tall PSLV-C23 rocket was the 714-kg SPOT 7 (Earth Observation Satellite) of Airbus Defence and Space.

Equipped with high resolution imaging cameras and sensors, this satellite has been placed diametrically opposite to its earlier twin, SPOT-6, also launched from this southern Indian space station on 9 September 2012.

The other four satellites belonged to Germany , Singapore and Canada (two).

The first satellite to be ejected from the PSLV was SPOT-7. After that, German AISAT, Canadian NLS7.1 and NLS7.2 and Singapore ’s VELOX-1 were placed in the orbit.

PSLV2. Credit: India Strategic
PSLV2. Credit: India Strategic

Airbus, which had a team at the space station to coordinate and monitor the launch, said that SPOT-7was being placed in a 655-km sun synchronous orbit.

India began its space program in 1975 with very modest beginnings and the scientists of those days even carried components on bicycles. There was assistance from the United States initially, and then from the erstwhile Soviet Union which also facilitated the first space journey of an Indian, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma of the Indian Air Force (IAF), in April 1984.

Sq Ldr Sharma received extensive training at IAF’s test pilots school, Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment (ASTE) before being sent to Baikonur cosmodrome for the launch. He spent nearly eight days in the Salyut-7 space station along with two Soviet cosmonauts.

ISRO has an international marketing arm, Antrix, to outsource space launch missions and some technology.

ISRO has sent missions to the mars and moon, found evidence of water with the help of a Raytheon radar on the moon, and is now preparing for a manned mission there.

There are many challenges towards a human flight, requiring capability in long range propulsion, and onboard control, connectivity and survival systems.

Reprinted with the permission of our partner India Strategic.

According to another source,

The workhorse of India’s space programme, the PSLV made its maiden flight in September 1994 with a failed attempt to orbit the IRS-1E remote sensing satellite. For the SPOT-7 mission, flight C23, the PSLV will fly in the Core Alone (PSLV-CA) configuration.

The Core Alone variant of the PSLV first flew in April 2007, with Monday’s launch marking its tenth flight.

The rocket consists of the same four stages as the standard PSLV, but without the six PS0M boosters which the standard configuration attaches to the first stage.

The flight of PSLV C23 began with the ignition of the first stage’s solid-fuelled S-138 motor at the T-0 point in the countdown, propelling the rocket into the sky above Sriharikota.

The powered phase of first stage flight lasted around 102 seconds, with separation occurring at 110.6 seconds after liftoff.

The second stage ignited two tenths of a second after staging, at the start of a burn which lasted around 150 seconds. Separation of the payload fairing occurred at the 176.7-second mark, with the PSLV at an altitude of 131.5 kilometres (81.7 statute miles or 71.0 nautical miles) – taking it clear of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The second stage, which is liquid-fuelled and powered by an L-40 Vikas engine burning unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide, separated 262.2 seconds into flight, making way for the solid-fuelled third stage to fire 1.2 seconds later.

The motor used on the third stage, an S-7, utilized a burn time of 110 seconds.

Ignition of the fourth stage occurred eight minutes, 51.2 seconds after liftoff, ten seconds after the rocket jettisoned its spent third stage.

The PSLV’s fourth stage was powered by a pair of L-2-5 engines, fuelled by monomethylhydrazine and mixed nitrogen oxides. Its single burn lasted eight minutes and 25.5 seconds, placing the satellites into their planned orbit at 655.1 by 657.7 kilometres (407.0 by 408.7 miles, 353.7 by 355.1 nautical miles), with inclination of 98.23 degrees.

SPOT-7 was the first of the payloads to separate, thirty seven seconds after the end of powered flight. Forty seconds later AISat-1 was released, with CanX-4 and 5 being deployed thirty and sixty seconds after that.

The final separation event was for VELOX-1-NSAT, twenty five seconds after CanX-5. The PSAT spacecraft was deployed from NSAT at a later date.

The venue for the launch of PSLV C23 was the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island…..

Two orbital launch complexes are currently used at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The First Launch Pad is primarily used for PSLV launches, while the newer Second Launch Pad serves a mixture of PSLV and GSLV missions.

The second pad is currently being prepared for a suborbital launch which will mark the maiden flight of India’s newest rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk.III. That mission is currently scheduled for late July or early August.

India’s next orbital launch will be made at an unspecified date later this year, with a PSLV carrying the third satellite in India’s IRNSS navigation system. Another such launch is also believed to be scheduled for the end of the year.

Editor’s Note: In a March 2010 piece we looked at the consequences of multi-polar space for US space policy.

As the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama launches its space policy — both civil and military — the space context within which the policy will be affected is changing rapidly.

By 2020, several nations will have new capabilities in space, along with civil capabilities, rivaling today’s sensing and communications capabilities possessed by the U.S. military.

And with the barriers to entry for space operations going down, multipolar space — or several global players shaping core space capabilities — will be a fundamental reality by 2020.

No matter what the United States does, multipolar space will create new policy realities. There will be alternatives to working with the United States for human and robotic space explorations.

There will be alternative constellations to U.S. global positioning systems. And Europe, India, China and Japan will all have significant space assets, which can operate as magnets attracting the iron filings of space activities.

Space will become a multiple Venn diagram of activity.

Yet the U.S. space debate is caught on dead center and seems to assume hegemony or a U.S.-centric “multinationalism.”

The reality by 2020 will leave such assumptions in the dustbin of history.