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Preparing for space stations

Print edition : Aug 26, 2005 T+T-
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A model of GSLV-Mk III.-S. THANTHONI

THE first flight of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)-Mark III is expected to take place by the end of 2007. "We are at the midpoint of the systems development of this beautiful vehicle. When it becomes operational, India will have the capability to build space stations," S. Ramakrishnan, Project Director of GSLV Mk III, said.

The vehicle can put a 10-tonne satellite in low-earth orbit (LEO), that is, between 300 and 800 km above the earth. "This will enable us to have our own space station and we can become a player in international space missions," Ramakrishnan said. (Space stations are built in LEOs. The International Space Station is about 300 km above the earth.)

An operational GSLV-Mk III would ensure that India did not depend on the Ariane vehicle of the European Space Agency to launch the INSAT-class of satellites, which weigh more than 2.5 tonnes, in geo-synchronous transfer orbits. GSLV-Mk III can put a satellite weighing between four and five tonnes in the geo-synchronous transfer orbit, which has an apogee of 36,000 km and a perigee of 180 km.

India already has an "assured access to space" with two operational vehicles (the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and GSLV-Mk I). While the PSLV had a run of eight consecutive successful flights, GSLV-Mk I had three successful flights in a row.

GSLV-Mk III will be the heaviest and the most powerful vehicle to be built by ISRO so far. During lift-off it will weigh 632 tonnes and stand 43 metres tall. It has a simple design and a minimum number of three stages. It will have a core stage powered by liquid propellants and two strap-on booster motors, which will use solid propellants, strung around the core stage. Above the core stage will be the totally indigenous upper stage, propelled by 25 tonnes of cryogenic fluids, that is, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

According to ISRO officials, the PSLV flight, which will take place next year, will put into orbit an Italian satellite called Agile and India's 500-kg Space Recovery Experiment (SRE) capsule. After its payloads perform their experiments lasting several weeks, the SRE will fall into the sea and will be recovered by Indian naval ships.

Three air-drop tests of the SRE from a helicopter were conducted in the Pulicat lake near Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, in June and August 2004. An air-drop of the SRE into the Bay of Bengal was done some weeks ago and the SRE was recovered successfully.

The SRE is seen as an important precursor to manned missions to space.

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