India began 2018 scoring a perfect century of satellites launched into space. The PSLV C40 successfully placed the 100th satellite, Cartosat-2 series, a weather monitoring one into orbit in a smooth launch from the Sriharikota space port this morning. It also launched 29 more smaller satellites sequentially during a window of two hours of skilful manoeuvres.
It also sets up a blistering pace and challenge to the incoming Chairman K Sivan, Director of the Thiruvananthapuram based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, who is expected to take over later this month.
Buoyed by the growing business that Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO is attracting for the PSLV, the Government recently announced that it will fund the space agency’s efforts to develop an exclusive Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). This launcher can cater exclusively to mini and micro satellites. There is growing demand from private sector, research institutions and universities who want to put small payloads into low orbit for space data.
India offers cost competitive advantage vis-a-vis Big players like Arianespace, US, Russia, ESA etc. through PSLV. The SSLV can emerge more lucrative as ISRO can bring down its launch costs and offer better price to customers, instead of the present piggyback ride on the PSLV, which can then focus on higher payloads.
The present flight carried satellites from US, Uk, France, Finland, Korea, Finland and Canada. About 25 are nano satellites and rest are micro types.
The success also sets the tone for the hectic schedule of launches spread over the year. It will also push confidence for the upcoming GSLV Mark III Launch. GSLV is key to India’s big leap into space business and long interplanetary and Moon and Mars missions in future.
India’s satellite launch story did not have a great beginning. In fact, it began on a disastrous note. The first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) failed in the first attempt in 1979. The second attempt proved successful.
As it advanced into the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle, the going became tougher as both the ASLV 1&2 failed in 1987 &88. It was a only in 1992 on the third attempt, the ISRO tasted success. Then it moved on to the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV). Here again it was unlucky on its maiden flight in 1993.
However, after getting the act together and learning from failures it got everything right in 1994. There was no looking back for the PSLV and ISRO. In 42 missions, the workhorse has just failed less than half a dozen times.
India’s satellite journey began with Aryabhatta Launch from the Soviet Union in 1975. The indigenous Rohini 1 was launched subsequently and it grew from strength to strength into communication, remote sensing, ocean studying, geographical data collecting satellites being placed into orbit both from Arianespace Vehicle in Kouru and PSLV.
With the PSLV firmly establishing its niche strengths, the next challenge for the ISRO will be to operationalise the GSLV at the earliest. If it can add the SSLV in a couple of years, the space agency will emerge as a formidable force in the multi-billion dollar Launch Vehicle sector, where several private players like SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and are entering in a big way.
For 2018 ISRO has ambitious plans of having one rocket launch every month, with the mission carrying different payloads and applications. The focus will be on getting increased business by Antrix and strengthening the country’s own satellite based coverage.