Indian Space Research Organisation ushers in a new era for India’s space industry
The successful launch of the indigenously-developed cryogenic engine powered heavy-duty rocket GSLV Mk-III carrying a 3,136 kg GSAT-19 communication satellite in the very first attempt should rightly be celebrated as a historic moment.
Fifteen years after the US and Europe blocked the transfer of cryogenic engine technology from Russia, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has made its mark with commitment, conviction and expertise in mastering the cryogenic engine that’s fuelled by solid and liquid fuels. In fact, it’s a new era for India’s space industry. The cryogenic engine C25 used in the maiden launch on Monday by India is, anyway, far ahead of the C20 deployed in September 2016 which marked the arrival of ISRO as a cost-effective, proficient and focused long-term deep space player.
With this achievement, ISRO will now have the kind of bragging rights that will enable it to sit at the high table with members of the big boys club — US, Japan, China and France that are, of course, far ahead in deep space exploration and commercial exploitation of outer space.
To date, liquid propellants fuelled PSLV class rockets remained the ISRO’s workhorse to launch payloads up to 2,200 kg in low earth orbits. Moving to Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) class translates to India. It was a spectacular show put up by ISRO’s ‘fat boy’ who obediently launched GSAT 19 in the designated orbit. This would no doubt lead to the next stage in communication and internet services vis-a-vis speed, costs and coverage.
However, it needs to be borne in mind that ISRO has a long way to go given the progress made globally in this area. For instance, NASA, in collaboration with Boeing, is busy developing a space launch system (SLS) that will carry a mind-boggling 130 tonne payload for an inter-planetary probe. The rocket to be tested later this year will be a massive 384 feet tall weighing 6.5 million pounds. Though full scaling up will take time, a 77 tonne payload pilot test will happen this year itself. Russia’s super rocket design, which is yet to be officially unveiled, will have a rocket that can carry an 80 tonne payload to take manned missions to Mars and Jupiter. Roskosmos, Russia’s federal space agency’s competitive target of 2021-22 to achieve this humongous task with an investment of 700 billion rubles, will leave its own impression on the global space scenario. Incidentally, India’s first cryogenic engine development was modelled on Russia’s engines, even though the technology transfer agreement was aborted at the last minute owing to global pressure. The ‘Europa’ Clipper mission being undertaken by NASA to explore the Jupiter’s icy moon is an instance of the heights that global biggies have reached in space science.
Meanwhile, China launched its secretive Shenzou 11 spacecraft from the Western Chinese spaceport, and effectively intensified the race for space supremacy. This is also the beginning of the countdown for China’s launch of human missions to the moon and Mars by 2032 leveraging home-grown robotics, aviation and artificial intelligence.
The scale of NASA, Roskosmos and the Chinese National Space Administration’s operation will surely appear to diminish ISRO’s achievements. One way to challenge that perception would be for ISRO to scale-up its missions. Already, ISRO, its associate agencies and private partners are getting ready for a human mission into space made possible through GSLV. The Modi government must move quickly to allow scaling up the GSLV and launching human missions into space.