The year 2018 could be termed as one of the landmark years in the history of Indian Space Science. From innovating with limited resources in the 1960s to launching a record 104 satellites in mission mode-both Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and India have come a long way in this space odyssey. ISRO’s big launches in 2018 included a remote sensing earth observation satellite in the Cartosat-2 series, a GSAT-6A communication satellite, and eight navigation satellites to join the IRNSS Space Segment, GSAT-29 for communication, HysIS for earth observation and the GSAT-11 Mission with the Ariane-5 launch vehicle from France, for communication.
The latest launch was of the GSAT-7A satellite, on December 19, on-board GSLV-F11 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre off the coast of Andhra Pradesh. The year 2018 also saw some important initiatives, including bringing in private entities to build satellites. The UR Rao Satellite Centre has signed work order contracts with different vendors, to help in the assembly, integration and testing for satellites. These firms will build 27 satellites, to be launched before 2023. These would comprise seven communication, 12 Earth observation, five navigation and three science satellites.
The year 2018 will also be remembered for ISRO crossing the milestone of lifting and putting into orbit over 250 foreign satellites bringing the total to 269 foreign satellites. There has been the sanction for a Manned ‘Gaganyaan’ Mission and the operationalization of the heaviest rocket, steps to license out lithium ion (Li) battery technology, introduction of new technologies in rockets and satellites and the decision to go ahead with the Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS), among others.
Giving a major strategic boost to the Indian Air Force (IAF), ISRO on 19th December successfully launched a dedicated military communications satellite, GSAT-7A, exclusively designed for the country’s air wing to strengthen its network-centric operations. The satellite would enable the IAF to interlink different ground radar stations, ground airbase and airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft. It would also help in controlling unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations. From successfully orbiting the indigenous “eye-in-the-sky” Cartosat-series of remote-sensing satellites having both civilian and military applications to launching dedicated satellites for its Navy and the Air Force, India has finally achieved success in this direction.
The year 2018 also saw sanctions for infrastructure augmentation-connected and non-connected with the proposed manned mission. Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS satellites will be placed in geostationary orbit, enabling satellite to satellite communication and reducing the dependence on the ground stations. “There will be two IDRSS satellites of which one is targeted to be flown next year,” ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Sivan has said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Independence Day this year had announced that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, ‘an Indian would go to space with a tricolour [Indian flag] in their hands’. The pragmatic leadership of Prime Minister Modi and his commitment to take Indian Space mission to greater heights is noteworthy. Indian space scientists are not only leading critical space missions slated for the near future but also making a mark in areas such as space design. Some of the brightest ideas for new and miniature satellite designs (CubeSats) in recent years have emerged from India.
Looking forward to 2019, ISRO will also be busy with the Chandrayaan-2, India’s second moon mission slated for launch in January; flying its new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) rocket. Another important mission would be the launch of the two-satellite Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS), of which one will be launched in 2019. It will maintain continuous communication with India’s remote sensing/earth observation satellites and with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) that is planned to carry three Indian astronauts to space in 2022.
Script: Yogesh Sood, Journalist