The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will inaugurate a state-of-the-art launch pad capable of accommodating different rockets with the scheduled mid-April launch of the Cartosat-1 mapping satellite.

Cartosat-1, which will be capable of taking pictures with a ground resolution of 2.5 meters, will be launched along with an amateur radio satellite dubbed Hamsat aboard the domestically developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The new pad, India’s second, is located along with the first at ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre on India’s east coast 80 kilometers north of Chennai. The existing pad at that site, built 25 years ago, is not capable of accommodating future vehicles such as the planned Mark 3 version of India’s Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle.

“The (second) pad, besides meeting redundancy needs, can increase launch frequency and serve future vehicles including the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark 3,” K.R. Sridharamurthy, executive director of Antrix Corp., said in an e-mail response to questions March 24. Antrix, based in Bangalore, is the commercial arm of ISRO.

The new Mark 3 vehicle will be able to lift 4 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, whereas the current Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle is capable of launching 1,800 kilograms to that orbit.

Construction of the new pad was approved in 1997 and cost approximately 4 billion rupees ($91 million).

According to ISRO’s annual report for 2004-2005, the new pad has successfully completed launch rehearsals with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the first two stages of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle. It features a large vertical assembly building measuring 82 meters by 40 meters by 32 meters that can accommodate two different types of rockets simultaneously.

Vehicle assembly and payload integration take place within the enclosed facility, after which the stack is rolled out to a 76-meter launch tower located about a kilometer away. This contrasts with the older pad, where the vehicle is assembled inside a mobile servicing tower that is moved away from the rocket before lift off.

Unlike launch pads operated by the United States and Europe, which typically are designed for a single type of rocket, ISRO’s new pad is designed to accommodate all of India’s existing and planned launch vehicles.

The new complex, built by an industrial team of 130 contractors led by Mecon Ltd. of Ranchi Bihar, India, is designed to withstand earthquakes as well as the severe cyclones and other storms that are common on the nation’s east coast.

“From the engineering point of view, the second launch pad was a big challenge” because it required skills across several engineering disciplines, said Krishnaswami Kasturirangan, the former chairman of ISRO. No Indian company has ever tackled a similar job before, he said.

Kasturirangan said he foresaw the need for the new pad as ISRO chairman back in 1994 as a back-up to the existing pad and to accommodate a potential increase in the frequency of ISRO launches.

Sridharamurthy said the flexibility of the new pad will help Antrix in its efforts to win more commercial launch contracts.

Based in Bangalore, Killugudi S. Jayaraman holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was formerly science editor of the...