Fully Domestic Indian Rocket Launches Geo Satellite

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BANGALORE, India — The new year opened on a high note for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with the first successful flight of a rocket with a domestically built cryogenic upper-stage engine. 

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) carrying the GSat-14 communications satellite lifted off Jan. 5 at 4:18 p.m. local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on India’s southeastern coast. The 1,982-kilogram satellite was released into geosynchronous transfer orbit 17 minutes into the flight. 

The upper-stage engine burned for 720 seconds during the mission, boosting the morale of ISRO scientists who had been struggling to build it for two decades. The engine was developed at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu at a cost of 3.36 billion rupees ($54 million), according to ISRO.

“It is an important day and a major achievement for ISRO and a proud moment for India,” ISRO Chairman Koppilli Radhakrishnan said in an address immediately after the nationally televised launch. “We now have a totally indigenous GSLV.” 

The three-stage GSLV rocket is 51 meters tall and weighs 418 metric tons. The first stage is powered by a solid-fueled core motor and four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters; the second stage uses liquid fuel. The cryogenic third stage employs liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

The latest launch was GSLV’s eighth flight and followed two successive failures in 2010, one of which involved the homemade cryogenic stage. The other previous GSLV flights used a Russian-designed cryogenic stage under an agreement signed in 1991. 

ISRO began working on its own cryogenic engines in 1993 after Russia — under pressure from Washington — refused to transfer the technology necessary for India to produce the hardware domestically.

The first test flight, in April 2010, went awry when the domestically built engine failed to ignite, leading to the loss of the GSat-4 satellite. A scheduled test flight in August 2013 had to be aborted two hours before liftoff due to a second-stage propellant leak. 

The second stage was replaced for the Jan. 5 flight. The upper stage, featuring redesigned components, was put through several tests including one to assess its performance at high altitude.

ISRO reported Jan. 9 that the GSat-14, designed for a 15-year lifetime, had successfully raised itself to geostationary orbit using its on-board propulsion system and was drifting toward its operating location at 74 degrees east longitude. After commissioning, it will join ISRO’s fleet of nine operational communications satellites.

According to ISRO, the satellite’s main objective is to augment India’s in-orbit transponder capacity, which in recent years has been insufficient to meet surging demand for satellite-based services, primarily for television broadcasting. GSat-14 carries six extended C-band and six Ku-band transponders covering the entire Indian subcontinent, and two Ka-band beams operating at 20.2 and 30.5 gigahertz for studying the impact of weather on satellite communications links.

India’s larger geostationary telecommunications satellites today are still launched by foreign rockets, usually Europe’s Ariane 5, but ISRO is working on a larger version of the GSLV to handle these missions. 

ISRO also harbors ambitions to launch commercial telecommunications satellites. In addition, the GSLV will be used for future ISRO space ventures including a robotic mission to the Moon slated to launch in 2015 or 2016. 

The latest launch was GSLV’s eighth flight and followed two successive failures in 2010, one of which involved the homemade cryogenic stage. The other previous GSLV flights used a Russian-designed cryogenic stage under an agreement signed in 1991. ISRO began working on its own cryogenic engines in 1993 after Russia – under pressure from Washington – refused to transfer the technology necessary for India to produce the hardware domestically.

The first test flight, in April 2010, went awry when the domestically built engine failed to ignite, leading to the loss of the GSat-4 satellite. A scheduled test flight in August 2013 had to be aborted two hours before liftoff due to a second-stage propellant leak.

The second stage was replaced for the Jan. 5 flight. The upper stage, featuring redesigned components, was put through several tests including one to assess its performance at high altitude.

ISRO said the GSAT-14, designed to operate for 15 years, will use its own propulsion system to reach its geostationary orbital home at 74 degrees east longitude over the next few days. After commissioning, it will join ISRO’s fleet of nine operational communications satellites.

According to ISRO, the satellite’s main objective is to augment India’s in-orbit transponder capacity, which in recent years has been insufficient to meet surging demand for satellite-based services, primarily for television broadcasting. The GSat-14 carries six extended C-band and six Ku-band transponders covering the entire Indian subcontinent, and two Ka-band beams operating at 20.2 and 30.5 gigahertz for studying the impact of weather on satellite communications links.

India’s larger geostationary telecommunications satellites today are still launched by foreign rockets, usually Europe’s Ariane 5, but ISRO is working on a larger version of the GSLV to handle these missions. ISRO also harbors ambitions to launch commercial telecommunications satellites.

In addition, the GSLV will be used for future ISRO space ventures including a robotic mission to the Moon slated to launch in 2015 or 2016.