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‘Naughty boy’ behaves

On March 29, the geosynchronous rocket which was given a nickname by scientists after many of its launches failed, finally performed under ISRO chief K Sivan’s watch

India has scripted yet another success as it put into orbit its latest communication satellite GSAT-6A after a perfect launch of its powerful geosynchronous rocket that will help in mobile communication even from very remote locations through hand-held ground terminals besides being a shot in the arm for the armed forces.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said the satellite which has a mission life of about 10 years would provide a thrust to mobile communication through multi-beam coverage facility. The 49.1-metre Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F08), fitted with indigenously developed cryogenic engine at the third stage, lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota at 4.56 pm on March 29, 2018 and soared majestically into the clear sky at the end of a 27-hour countdown.

In a textbook launch, about 18 minutes later, the rocket injected the GSAT-6A into the geostationary transfer orbit as ISRO scientists broke into celebrations at the mission control centre. ISRO chief K Sivan said the fifth successive successful launch of GSLV with indigenous cryogenic stage successfully placed the high-power S-band communication satellite in the “designated orbit precisely”. GSAT-6A was a complement to GSAT6, which was already in orbit, and these two satellites combined will provide a platform for development of advanced technologies, he said.

ISRO chief K Sivan said the fifth successive successful launch of GSLV with indigenous cryogenic stage successfully placed the high power S-band communication satellite in the “designated orbit precisely”.

This is the first mission for Sivan, who assumed charge of the space agency in January. Right from the core stage ignition to the GSAT6A satellite separation, the entire launch was completed within the scheduled mission duration as the space agency had yet another precise launch. This is the 12th flight of GSLV rocket and the sixth with indigenous cryogenic upper stage. The 2,140-kg GSAT-6A is a high power S-band communication satellite and would complement the services being provided by GSAT 6 since its launch in 2015. It will be a technology demonstrator for high power S-band transmission from the satellite for supporting two-way communication, according to ISRO.

The satellite will also provide a platform for developing technologies such as demonstration of 6 m S-Band Unfurlable Antenna, hand-held ground terminals and network management techniques that could be useful in satellite-based mobile communication applications. ISRO had made significant improvements in the GSLV Mk-II rocket including induction of high thrust Vikas engine in the second stage. The three-stage launch vehicle weighing 415.6 tonne also was deployed with electromechanical actuation system in place of electro-hydraulic actuation system for much better reliability. A jubilant S Somanath, Director of VSSC, said the GSLV F08, the “naughty boy tamed by Sivan (was) behaving well in this mission”.

The geosynchronous rocket was dubbed “a naughty boy” after some of its earlier launches had failed. The satellite was put in a very good orbit which will ensure long service, he added. P Kunhikrishnan, Director, SHAR, described the launch as a “magnificent mission”.

Sivan’s first assignment as ISRO chief happened to be an “important” one, he said. In January, the space agency had successfully launched its 100th satellite along with 30 other spacecraft including weather observation Cartosat 2 series onboard its Polar rocket from here. That launch included 28 satellites from foreign countries and the successful mission had put behind the rare setback ISRO suffered after the failure of the PSLV-C39 mission in August last year.

Last year on February 15, India scripted history by successfully launching a record 104 satellites, all but three of them foreign, and putting them into orbit in a single mission onboard its most dependable Polar rocket. In its 39th flight (PSLV-C37), ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle launched the 714 kg Cartosat-2 Series Satellite along with 103 copassenger satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota. The total weight of all the 104 satellites carried on-board PSLV-C37 was 1,378 kg.

Of the 103 co-passenger satellites carried by PSLV-C37, two – ISRO Nano Satellite-1 (INS-1) weighing 8.4 kg and INS-2 weighing 9.7 kg – are technology demonstration satellites from India. The remaining 101 co-passenger satellites carried were international customer satellites from the US (96) and The Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and UAE (one each). As the country seeks a bigger slice of the multibillion dollar space launch industry, the ISRO bettered Russian space agency’s feat of launching 37 satellites at one go in 2014. The previous highest number of satellites launched by ISRO in one mission was 20 in June 2015. A majority of the satellites have earth-imaging capability while the Indian cartographic satellite is capable of taking high resolution images.

Then on May 5, India gave its neighbours an “invaluable gift” – a South Asia Satellite that will provide communications and disaster support to neighbouring countries. Giving a boost to New Delhi’s new age space diplomacy and “neighbourhood first” policy, the Rs 235-crore satellite GSAT-9 built as part of a Rs 450-crore project is seen as a significant move in countering Chinese interests in the region. The project is funded entirely by India. The cuboid-shaped 2,230-kg satellite named SAS will enable a full range of services to the neighbours, including in telecommunication, television, direct-to-home, VSATs, tele-education and telemedicine. The South Asian Satellite (SAS) mission life is 12 years.

Seven of the eight SAARC countries—India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives—are part of the ambitious project. Pakistan opted out of the project, saying it has its own space programme. The South Asia Satellite is a communication satellite built by ISRO to provide a variety of communication services over the South Asian region.  For this, it is equipped with Ku-band transponders.

India achieved another milestone on June 5 when it successfully launched its most powerful and heaviest geostationary rocket carrying advanced communication satellite GSAT-19 from the spaceport in Sriharikota. With the launch, India has joined an elite group of a few countries that possess the complex and high performance cryogenic technology.