Saturday, September 8, 2012

ISRO launches 100th mission; Prime Minister witnesses historic event


The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) made history as it launched its 100th indigenous mission today. The space agency's old warhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), successfully blasted off into space at 9:53 am with two foreign satellites from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. (In Pics)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota to witness the landmark event. "On behalf of all Indians, I congratulate the Department of Space and all members of the Indian Space Research Organisation for the successful launch," the PM said.

The launch, initially scheduled for 9:51 am was delayed by two minutes as scientists waited for space debris to clear out. In its 22nd launch, the 230-tonne rocket onboard the PSLV, which is as tall as a 15-storey building, was its third fully-commercial launch. The PSLV has an enviable record with just one failure.

"Reaching a hundred is an important milestone like in cricket, but this ISRO's century is unique as each mission is unique...there have been failures and successes but overall, the future is very bright," K Kasturirangan, former chief and a member of ISRO, said before the launch.

During the 51-hour countdown that began at 6:51 am on September 7, mandatory checks on the launch vehicle and spacecraft were carried out and charging of batteries and pressurisation of propellant tanks on board the satellite were performed, ISRO had said.

As part of the mission, 720-kg SPOT-6 remote sensing satellite from France (built by ASTRIUM SAS) and a 15-kg Japanese spacecraft PROITERES would be placed in orbit by ISRO's PSLV C-21. The launch of the foreign satellites is also indicative of the rapid strides made by ISRO in furthering the nation's space programme - today's launch, a purely commercial one, has firmly placed the country in a select club of rocket-makers on which private utilities can bank upon to launch their operational satellites in a cost-effective and reliable manner.

"In this 100th launch, there is a reversal of roles where an Indian launcher is carrying a French satellite," Francois Richier, French Ambassador to India, said on the major milestone.

India, indeed, has come a long way since it launched its first satellite, Aryabhatta, in 1975. So far, the government has spent around $12 billion on ISRO, a miniscule amount compared to the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which has an annual budget of $17 billion. Despite that, the space agency has, to its credit, some major achievements.

So far, ISRO has launched 63 Indian-made satellites and 36 indigenous rockets. The country's first unmanned moon mission in October 2008, Chandrayaan-1, was a huge success. The space agency has also pioneered satellite television in the country and also catalysed the telecom boom. "Almost every family in India has benefitted from one or the other spin offs from the space agency...touching lives and adding value to the aam admi has been the hallmark of the Indian space programme," K Radhakrishnan, Chairman of ISRO, told NDTV.

But the successes have also been interrupted by some massive failures. ISRO has failed to master the bigger rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), what with several mid-air rocket explosions. More recently, the controversial Antrix-Devas deal involving commercial satellites have clouded the agency. It has also been unable to meet the demands for more transponders for satellite television.

If all goes as per plan, India plans to launch, in 2013, its maiden mission to Mars. Called Mangalyaan, it will be an unmanned orbiting mission to study the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Dr Radhakrishnan says "work is going on at a feverish pace for this mission that will reinforce India's national pride".

In the next five years, ISRO is also scheduled to have nearly 60 more missions.