Intellectual Thoughts by Sanjay Panda: India's space mission

India's space mission

The flawless 11th flight of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C8) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is more significant than all its previous missions, though each one so far has marked a step forward in the country’s space capability. For one, the PSLV-C8 is the first purely commercial flight that has successfully put an Italian 352-kg astronomical satellite, called AGILE, into space orbit on a contract won against stiff global competition. In fact, Isro had to modify the standard configuration of the PSLV to meet the requirements of the low-weight AGILE, which, additionally, had to be placed in a low inclination orbit. For this, Isro had for the first time to do without the six solid propellant strap-on motors of the first stage and reduce the propellant in the fourth stage by 400 kg, compared to the previous PSLV flight.

Despite these design modifications, Isro has managed to recover the bulk of the PSLV cost, reckoned at around Rs 65 crore, by charging the Italian space agency a competitive price of $ 29,000 per kg. Indeed, the AGILE, too, is unique in certain respects. It is said to be the only European mission entirely devoted to high-energy astrophysics studies. Besides, it is the first satellite powered by commercially available, space-qualified rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

As such, the country will now be viewed as a price-competitive contestant in the global satellite launch market, estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. Even if India manages to corner just 2 per cent of this market, as Isro hopes to do, it will mean substantial business in a wholly new sphere, and make Sriharikota the country’s first commercial spaceport. Considering the impeccable record of the PSLV—all its operational flights so far have been successful—and the deft design modifications to suit the customer’s needs, more orders are bound to be on their way for commercial space launches. In fact, since its first flight in 1994, the PSLV has accomplished several feats. These include launching eight Indian remote sensing satellites, an amateur radio satellite HAMSAT, a recoverable space capsule SRE-1, and six small satellites for foreign customers.
Amongst its most notable achievements is the launch of India’s exclusive meteorological satellite Kalpana-1 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. While undertaking a wholly commercial mission this time, Isro has also managed to use the spare capacity of the PSLV-C8 (which can carry a 1-tonne payload) for catapulting into space an advanced avionics module (AAM), weighing 185 kg, to test advanced launch vehicle avionics systems like mission computers, navigation and telemetry systems. Isro has so far been using mission computers developed in the 1990s. However, state-of-the-art navigational systems and computer aids have now become vital since it is the PSLV which is proposed to be used to launch India’s first spacecraft mission to the moon (Chandrayaan-1).

So great achievement & congrats to all the concerned personnel in ISRO

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