India Scores A Century In Space

India scored a century in space on Friday, when it successfully put into orbit its 100th satellite Cartosat-2F using its PSLV-C40 rocket. The successful launch and orbiting of the Earth Observation satellite Cartosat-2F was a big morale booster for Indian space scientists. It reinforced their faith in the reliability of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, which has emerged as Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) trusted workhorse. The launch was a litmus test for India’s workhorse PSLV in terms of reliability and robustness. Though PSLV has seamlessly carried out 39 consecutive successfully launches, ISRO took a four-month interval to revisit some of the core areas and come out with flying colours.

Interestingly, as subsequent analysis revealed, the launch of the PSLV-C39 was unsuccessful primarily because its heat shield separation did not take place and resulted in the entire fourth stage of PSLV-C39, along with the heat shield and satellite, becoming space junk. However, everything else in the launch vehicle including the first stage, second stage, third stage, and separation events performed normally.

Friday’s launch was significant for other reasons too. It brought ISRO back in the game four months after the failure of its previous PSLV mission in August last year. Also, with a weight of 710 kg, Cartosat-2F is the heaviest satellite to be launched by the PSLV.

Cartosat-2F is seventh of Cartosat series of Earth observation satellites to be deployed in a sun-synchronous orbit. Its main purpose is to collect high resolution large-scale maps. The images sent by the satellite will be useful for cartographic applications, urban and rural applications, coastal land use and regulation. It will also be used for utility management like road network monitoring, water distribution, creation of land use maps, change detection to bring out geographical and man-made features and various other land information system (LIS) as well as geographical information system (GIS) applications. But, more importantly, with extremely high resolution of less than one metre, it will be useful for surveillance along our borders.

Apart from Cartosat-2F, the mission also carried 30 smaller satellites – one micro-satellite and one nano-satellite from India as well as three microsatellites and 25 nano-satellites from six countries – Canada, Finland, France, the Republic of Korea, UK, and the US. Significantly, the satellites were deployed in two different orbits. While the Cartosat was released into the polar sun synchronous orbit at an altitude of about 510 kilometres, the 30 micro and nano-satellites were released at an altitude to 349 kilometres. The placement of the satellites in two different orbits made the mission a unique one, requiring multiple shut

down and ignition of the fourth stage engine of the rocket. The entire lift-off process along with the process of placing the satellites in two orbits took 2 hours and 21 minutes.

Emboldened by its track record of successful launches of the PSLV; ISRO has been offering launch services to the international customers through PSLV for several years now. So far, international satellites from 20 countries have been successfully put into orbit by PSLV in 15 launches. The confidence of international customers on Indian launch capability is reinforced by the launch mission. It is now clear that India’s capability of launching micro and nano-satellites is far ahead of many other space-faring nations as evidenced by countries like the United States coming repeatedly to India for launching their nano-satellites.

With the success of first mission in the Year 2018, ISRO can look forward to the other significant missions it has lined up for the year, which include Chandrayaan-II, the ambitious second mission to the Moon, which is likely to take off in March. The mission will use ISRO’s largest satellite launcher Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)-Mark III. Unlike the previous mission, Chandrayaan-II will not be an orbital mission. It will land a rover on the Moon for carrying out studies on the surface.

Script: Biman Basu, Senior Science Commentator