Thursday, December 9, 2021

India Space Programme Set To Touch New Heights

India wound up the year in space with the successful placement of the communication satellite CMS-01 into orbit by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the PSLV recently from the second launch pad at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

The satellite was placed into a precise Geo-Synchronous Transfer Orbit roughly 20 minutes after lift-off. It will replace the old GSAT-12 satellite launched in 2011. CMS-01 is India’s 42nd communications satellite. It is the first in a new series of communication satellites after the INSAT and the GSAT series.

For ISRO, this was the third launch this year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the missions, including the first unmanned flight of the ‘Gaganyaan’, were delayed. Before the pandemic, India was able to complete only one satellite mission—GSAT-30. It was launched in January this year by the international launcher Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana. Despite the pandemic, in November, ISRO successfully launched an earth observation satellite, EOS-01, along with nine international customer satellites. The earth observation satellite is for applications in agriculture, forestry and disaster management support.

The new satellite CMS-01 will enhance the country’s communication networks and aid in e-learning, telemedicine, and disaster management services. Its coverage will include the Indian mainland, and the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. The satellite has an estimated mission life of over seven years.

India will herald the New Year with the commercial launch of the Brazilian earth observation satellite Amazonia and three Indian satellites. The satellites will be carried on board ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C51 (PSLV-C51). The PSLV-C51 mission, scheduled for end-February or early March, will be a very special one not only for ISRO but also for India.

The launch will mark a new era of space reforms brought in ISRO to unlock India’s potential in the space sector. The rocket will carry an India-made earth observation satellite named “Anand”. The space sector was opened to private players with the inception of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe).

Anand is made by an Indian start-up called Pixxel (incorporated as Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd).  It is the first in a series of constellation of Earth Observation Satellites that will provide global coverage every 24-hour; enabling organisations to detect and monitor global phenomenon in near real-time. The data will be available on an Artificial Intelligence-based platform. It will have uses in agriculture, forestry, urban monitoring, and climate observation. Pixxel plans to have its constellation of 30 small earth observation satellites up in the sky by the end of 2022.

Along with Anand, ISRO will also launch two more satellites–‘Satish Sat’ from Space Kidz India and ‘Unity Sat’ from a consortium of universities.  For Space Kidz India, this will be its second satellite to be launched by ISRO. Its first, KalamSat, was the first student-made satellite to be launched using the fourth stage of the PSLV as the platform for the first time.

These are among several commercial satellites to be hurled into space in the first quarter of 2021.  Apart from the PSLV-C51 mission, ISRO is also gearing up for the maiden flight of the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV). It will have the capacity to launch a light 500-kilogram satellite in the lower Earth orbit. SSLV can also be assembled by a team of six engineers within seven days, in comparison to a team of 600 people and a few months that takes to assemble a PSLV. It has been developed by ISRO mainly for commercial launches.

India is working on the big-ticket missions. Activities are going on for Chandrayaan 3, Aditya L1 and Gaganyaan missions. Chandrayaan 3 would be a lander-rover mission which will use the existing India orbiter from Chandrayaan 2 mission to communicate with Earth. Aditya-L1 is India’s first solar mission that will see a satellite travel 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth to the L1 point. The L1 or Lagrangian point is between the Earth and the Sun. The Gaganyaan mission aims to place Indian astronauts in low earth orbit.


Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Science Journalist

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