In big league

The successful launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenously developed cryogenic engine is a major milestone in India’s road to complete mastery of rocket technology. Its importance can be realised from the fact that it can in some ways be compared to the first successful launch of a satellite from Indian soil using Indian technology.

It may even be more remarkable than the Mars mission of November last year which used known technology that had been tried and tested in the past.  But there was a definite lifting of the levels of technology and crossing of a higher threshold in the success of the GSLV, and it meant entry  into a small club of nations with ability to launch heavy satellites. Only the US, Russia, the EU, China and Japan are members of this group.

The success has come at the end of almost 20 years of work by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), which was marked by setbacks and failures. The failures of GSLV launches, caused by the inability of the cryogenic stage to fire on April 15, 2010  and by a fuel leakage on August 19 last year were disappointing, but the scientists and engineers finally got the better of the challenge. India had tried to enter the cryogenic stage as early as 1992 by purchasing engines from Russia and acquiring the technology from the US. The use of the Russian engine was a mixed success and the technology was denied by the US as part of the sanctions that came after the 1998 nuclear test. This provided the need and incentive to develop the technology indigenously and the ISRO succeeded in it.

The GSLV technology enables Isro to put heavier satellites into orbit. Sunday’s flight put into orbit the 1982-kg GSAT-14 communication satellite and Isro will now be able to launch heavier satellites. If the GSLV capability had been achieved two months ago Isro would have been able to put a heavier payload into the Mars orbiter. The capability has immense strategic and commercial potential in the future. The next attempt is to launch the GSLV Mark III  which can launch still heavier satellites up to 4,000 kg and this should be possible now. Isro will also be able to undertake the more ambitious Chandrayn-2 and commercial launches in the coming years. As Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan said, it was proud day for science and technology in the country.

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