India Ascending

For the moment at least, India is standing atop the world launch industry. On June 30, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C23) lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharti flying over the Bay of Bengal into a Sun Synchronous Orbit where it successfully placed its main payload, the 714 kg Spot-7 Earth Observation Satellite into a 655 km orbit.  Deployed in short order afterwards were four commercial microsats.

The PSLV, which is comprised of alternating solid and liquid fueled stages, flew in its most basic “core alone” configuration which does not make use of strap-on boosters. Monday’s launch marked the 26th consecutive successful flight for the relatively modest booster and its fourth completely commercial mission, further confirming its place as one of the world’s most reliable launch vehicles and a clear leader in the small launch vehicle category.

Meanwhile. American, Russian and even European boosters are experiencing delays in getting off the ground for a variety of reasons.

In Russia, a suborbital test launch of its new Angara booster was scrubbed on Friday just 15 seconds prior to ignition due to a problem with a poorly installed valve. Furthermore one of the Soviet era boosters it ultimately designed to replace, the heavy lift Proton, remains grounded following its most recent failure.

For Europe, the rock solid reliable Ariane V is experiencing a delay due to its one Achilles heel, the necessity of having two payloads ready at the same to time in order to fly in a cost effective dual launch scenario.

In the U.S., both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have encountered a series of delays in their next missions off the pad, and even United Launch Alliance got in on the act when a planned Monday liftoff of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OSO-2) aboard one of the final Delta II boosters, was delayed when a water valve in the pad’s acoustic protection system failed. With the problem resolved, the booster lifted off at 2:56 am PDT this morning.

For India, the rest of the year is expected to bring two moments which hold the potential for vaulting it from a reliable provider of small launch vehicles to the next step on the world stage.  Later this summer, India plans to conduct a suborbital test flight of the GSLV-III (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle ) its planned entry into the commercial mainstream. Visually similar to the Ariane V, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale , the GSLV-III is expected to be able to place 5,000 kg satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.  For the maiden flight, the GSLV Mk. III  will launch with an inert upper stage, but it will also be carrying the next step in India’s bid to join Russia, China (and presumably the United States) with a crewed space program of its own. Going along for the ride will be an engineering model of a two person LEO crew capsule.

The main event in India’s 2014 space calender however, will be taking place quite a bit further away than low Earth orbit. On September 24, its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft is scheduled to perform a Mars Orbit Insertion burn, placing it into an elliptical orbit around the Red Planet.

Barring difficulty, it will join the United States as the only other nation to successfully place a satellite in orbit around Mars which was launched aboard an indigenous booster (PSLV).  Europe’s Mars Express was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz, whereas Russia’s own Mars missions have been a nearly unbroken chain of disasters, with two orbiter missions transmitting for only a few days before going silent.

Should India’s orbiter make the transition from a relatively dormant interplanetary cruise phase to a fully functioning scientific platform it will mark a moment hard won in the often slowly evolving space program of the world’s second most populous nation, and quite possibly, be a harbinger of even greater things to come.

Posted in: India Space, Mars

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  1. SpaceOcean says:

    Best of luck ISRO

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