A new era for ISRO

Print edition : April 28, 2001

Interview with Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Chairman, ISRO.

GSLV is the sixth launch success in a row for Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In an interview to T.S. Subramanian in Chennai on April 19, he said that hard work and team work were behind the success of the mission. Dr. Kasturirangan, who is also Chairman, Space Commission, and Secretary, Department of Space, said: "The GSLV heralds a new era in the launch vehicle capability of ISRO." Excerpts:

How do you view the success of the GSLV launch and what is its significance for ISRO?

VINO JOHN

The GSLV flight heralds a new era in the launch vehicle capability of ISRO. The successful launch of the GSLV marks the culmination of a series of efforts, providing for the first time a capability to launch INSAT (Indian National Satellite) class of two-tonne satellites into geo-synchronous transfer orbit. Thus the full complement of the capabilities needed for the country in space infrastructure creation, including the scientific satellites in near-earth orbit, the Indian Remote-sensing Satellites (IRS) in polar orbit and the geo-synchronous INSAT satellites, are available with the Indian launch vehicles. This is the significance of the first test flight of the GSLV and its remarkable success.

How do you look back on the history of the ISRO from its toy rocketry era in the 1960s to the gigantic GSLV of today?

The development of rocketry within ISRO has been a three-decade affair, starting with the Rohini-75 rockets that could take a ten-kg payload to an altitude of five or six km. We developed more of these sounding rockets, including RH-200, RH-300, RH-300 mark II and RH-560. But these were sounding rockets. Developing them is child's play compared to the development of the SLV-3, which represented our first foray into the launch vehicle programme. The successful flights of the SLV-3, four of which were launched as developmental efforts, led to a more ambitious programme of building the ASLVs and the PSLVs. With the orbiting of the IRS-P2 by the PSLV in October 1994, India gained a major capability in putting an IRS class of one tonne satellites into a polar orbit.

The PSLV development represented several advanced technologies, including those related to large solid rocket motors in the class of 135 tonnes; liquid stages with a loading of unsymmetrical di-methyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide that weighed 37.5 tonnes, which (liquid stages) developed a corresponding thrust of 70 tonnes; capability for advanced staging and separation systems (of stages); and control, guidance and navigation systems for precise injection of the satellite into the required orbit. All these formed part of the developmental effort of the PSLV. Today, the PSLV is an operational vehicle with four successful launches in a row.

In undertaking the development of the GSLV, a major step has been taken to develop facilities for deploying two tonne class of INSAT satellites in the GTO. Developing a GSLV is a game with an order of magnitude more complex than the vehicles used for deploying satellites in near-earth orbits. Besides the need to increase their propulsive power, such rockets need to be provided with very complex and advanced control, guidance and navigation systems, stage separation systems, and planning a very intricate mission involving interface between rocket systems, ground systems and range systems.

What is the potential for marketing the GSLV?

We have built vehicles to launch INSAT class of satellites. We have now a configuration for INSAT with two-tonne all-up weight. The present version of the GSLV can be used for launching these class of INSAT spacecraft. Further, we can use the GSLV configuration to deploy heavier satellites in polar orbits. The third possibility is that it can be used for launching multiple communication satellites in the low-earth orbit configuration. So this vehicle has a potential for multiple uses.

Our current objective is to use this vehicle extensively for our own needs. This would include catering to the government's requirements as well as those coming from private investors in communication satellite systems. I would like to point out that the government recently decided to liberalise the ownership of communication satellite systems, which enables private entrepreneurs and investors to build, own and operate satellites registered within the country. This can be a new opportunity for the Indian investors to have cost-effective means of launching their satellites. As of now, we do not envisage a major market beyond the immediate needs of the country, which itself is fairly substantial. So we have not worked out the cost implications to price the vehicle.

Some aeronautical engineers say that the success of the GSLV flight means that India has acquired the capability of firing Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).

Several people outside ISRO have commented on the capabilities of the PSLV and the GSLV in different contexts. In ISRO itself, our goals are very clear. The configurations of the launch vehicles are such that they have the capability to launch various classes of satellites. As a civilian agency, our mandate is clear, which is to build launch vehicles for sending satellites into orbit. These kinds of configurations are not applicable to their use as a missile.

Is ISRO planning to conduct experiments on board the International Space Station?

We are looking at the futuristic possibility of doing experiments in metallurgical sciences, material sciences, biological sciences and other areas of fundamental sciences using the micro-gravity environment of the International Space Station. Currently, the strategy is to support the development of the payloads or instruments concerned within India. As and when an opportunity arises, we will review the situation. But we will certainly encourage such possibilities.

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