One rocket, 83 launches



29, Oct 2016

Indian space agency ISRO is aiming for a world record by putting into orbit 83 satellites – 2 Indian and 81 foreign – on a single rocket in early 2017. Russia - with 37 satellites in 2014 - currently holds the record for launching the highest number of satellites in one go. With this event, ISRO will again challenge the limits of space science. Knappily brings you the feats of ISRO from far and beyond.

What has the ISRO planned?

ISRO is all set to launch a space mission that will make a world record. If all goes well, on January 15, 2017, ISRO will launch 83 satellites in a daring single shot.

  • The rocket for ISRO’s historic mission will be the advanced version of the proven four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) designated PSLV-XL.
  • Of the 83 satellites, 81 are foreign satellites and 2 Indian satellites. The total payload would be around 1,600 kg.
  • All the satellites will be placed in a 580-km polar sun synchronous orbit in a span of 20-25 minutes after launch.
  • Since all the satellites would be put in a single orbit, the rocket would not have to be switched off and on. The major challenge for this mission is to hold the rocket in the same orbit till all the satellites are ejected.

Note: A sun-synchronous orbit is a geocentric orbit that combines altitude and inclination in such a way that the satellite passes over any given point of the planet's surface at the same local solar time. Such an orbit can place a satellite in constant sunlight.

Why is it important to have this capability?

India's ability to launch multiple satellites in a single mission will put it on firm footing in the global space market by making the price more competitive. ISRO began launching foreign satellites on board PSLV in May 1999.

  • Since then, it has gained popularity, as it launched foreign satellites successfully using PSLV by charging only 60% of the fee charged by foreign space agencies.
  • Deals are arranged by Antrix, the commercial arm of the department of space, and these are becoming more profitable by the year.
  • Many private companies are developing satellites that they need for their operations, but most cannot afford to launch these independently. So they need to piggyback on missions from agencies like ISRO that have launch facilities.
  • "The need for launches is growing exponentially worldwide, primarily because of new companies that are planning to launch entire commercial constellations [groups] of satellites, where a single company might need to launch anything between 24 to 648 satellites," says Susmita Mohanty, chief executive of Earth2Orbit, a company that has been helping negotiate launch deals between India's space agency and private firms.

Setting a world record by launching the highest satellites in one go is a huge opportunity for the commercial arm of ISRO, Antrix Corporation, to showcase ISRO’s capability.

  • Antrix has an order book of around Rs 500 crore in the launch services segment. ISRO says it is talking to customers to bring another Rs 500 crore of orders.
  • The number of foreign satellites launched by India to date is 79. This has earned the country more than $120m. And India's space agency has already secured deals to launch dozens more foreign satellites.
  • India earned 205% more revenue in the financial year 2014-15 (Rs 415.4 crore) than the previous year (Rs 136 crore) and 704% more than in 2013 (Rs 51.3 crore) for satellite-launch services.

When did ISRO launch multiple satellites?

The launch of multiple satellites at one go is nothing new for the ISRO as it has done this several times in the past, including the launch of several satellites in different orbits earlier in 2016.

  • On June 22, 2016, India launched 20 satellites in one go.In the final stages of the mission, ISRO also demonstrated the vehicle's capability to place satellites in different orbits. In the demonstration, the vehicle reignited twice after its fourth and final stage and moved further a few kilometres into another orbit.

ISRO set a world record for the highest number of satellites launched in a single mission when it placed 10 satellites in a PSLV on April 28, 2008.

  • The record for launching the highest number of satellites in one go is currently held by Russia, which launched 37 satellites on June 19, 2014.
  • The US had placed 29 satellites in orbit using the Orbital Sciences-built Minotaur-1 rocket on November 19, 2013.

Now, ISRO wants to reclaim the world record it once held. And the number of satellites it will launch (83) will not just break the record - it will be more than twice the current world record!

Where are the other areas where ISRO is the best in the world?

Chandrayaan-1, India's first lunar probe, was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation in October 2008, and operated until August 2009.

  • The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor. The mission was a major boost to India's space program, as India researched and developed its own technology in order to explore the Moon. The vehicle was successfully inserted into lunar orbit on 8 November 2008.

India is the first in Asia and fourth in the world to have performed a successful Mars mission – the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

  • On September 24, 2014, in a record-breaking feat, India entered the Martian orbit in the very first attempt at a record low cost of $74 million, garnering international acclaim.
  • MOM was the first Indian satellite which is being analysed by international space agencies and management schools to pave the way for low-cost access to deep space.
  • ISRO became the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency.

ASTROSAT, India’s first fully dedicated space observatory satellite was successfully launched in its maiden attempt along with six other foreign satellites on 29 September 2015.

  • ISRO’s low-cost 1.5 ton satellite which is injected into a 650 km orbit is equipped with one UV telescope, a charge particle monitor and will carry four X-ray payloads.
  • India is only the fourth nation to achieve the feat after the US, Russia, and Japan.

The success of GSLV -F05 rocket launched in September 2016 used indigenous cryogenic upper stage engine to successfully locate the heavy weather satellite INSAT-3DR weighing 2800 kg into the orbit is another feather in the cap of ISRO.

  • The successful launch of over two-ton satellite has put India in the elite league of nations able to lift up such heavy satellites in the geostationary orbit. Only five other nations — US, Russia, France, Japan and China, have the cryogenic engine technology to lift such heavy satellites.

Who are ISRO’s competitors in providing launch services?

There is competition not only from other space-faring countries but also increasingly from private firms like Elon Musk's SpaceX.

  • So far India has only been launching small and light foreign satellites, using the PSLV. In this weight class there are not too many operators.

However, in the heavier weight class there are many, for example Europe's Ariane rocket has established itself and from the new lot there is SpaceX; but they have not provided many opportunities for small satellite operators.

But launching heavier satellites is where the big money is, which is why many players are even reducing the price of their rocket launches to bag more deals.

  • India has been launching heavy satellites on its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) but so far it has only been used for domestic satellites.
  • In recent months though, there have been queries from foreign companies for launches on the GSLV.

If India can successfully start taking more heavy satellites to space, it could really fire up its position in a market that's worth billions of dollars.

How promising are ISRO’s future projects?

Chandrayaan-2 will be India's second mission to the Moon which will include an orbiter and lander-rover module.

  • Chandrayaan-2 will be launched on India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-MkII) and land on moon by December 2018. The science goals of the mission are to further improve the understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon.

ISRO plans to carry out a mission to the Sun by the year 2019-20. The probe is named as Aditya-1 and will weigh about 400 kg.

  • It is the First Indian based Solar Coronagraph to study solar Corona in visible and near infra-red bands. The main objective is to study the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) and consequently the crucial physical parameters for space weather such as the coronal magnetic field structures, evolution of the coronal magnetic field etc.
  • This will provide completely new information on the velocity fields and their variability in the inner corona having an important bearing on the unsolved problem of heating of the corona would be obtained.

The second mission to Mars – Mars Orbiter Mission-2 (MOM-2) will likely be launched in March 2018, when Earth and Mars become optimally aligned again in their orbits around the Sun for a craft to journey between them using a fuel-saving maneuver. However, no date has been officially announced.

  • The payload capability of the proposed satellite is likely to be 100kg.
  • A 100-kilogram’s worth of instruments will well-widen the scope of studies and quality of observations that MOM-2 will be able to undertake.
  • The flipside is that launching a 100-kg satellite will require ISRO to use the heavier GSLV rocket – and the GSLV rockets haven’t yet proved themselves reliable, nowhere near as reliable as the PSLV-class rocket that launched MOM-1. So ISRO will also have to focus on getting a reliable GSLV rocket in place.

ISRO is conducting high-altitude tests with its own cryogenic engine that is expected to power the heavier rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mk III (GSLV Mk III).

  • The GSLV Mk III has a capacity to carry around four tonnes of load. The rocket is scheduled to be flown in January 2017.
  • The GSLV Mk III rocket is expected to save precious foreign exchange for India as it pays to launch heavier satellites through foreign space agencies.

AVATAR from "Aerobic Vehicle for Transatmospheric Hypersonic Aerospace TrAnspoRtation" is a concept for a manned single-stage reusable space plane capable of horizontal takeoff and landing, by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation along with Indian Space Research Organisation and other research institutions.

  • The mission concept is for low cost military and commercial satellite space launches, as well as for space tourism.
  • The first scaled-down tests are planned for 2016, and the first manned AVATAR flight is proposed for 2025.

Taking a baby step in development of reusable rocket which will drastically cut down cost of access to space, ISRO successfully flight-tested an indigenous winged Reusable Launch Vehicle in May this year, dubbed "swadeshi" space shuttle, from Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh.

  • The first in the series of experimental flights for Reusable Launch Vehicle-technology development is the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX) followed by the landing experiment (LEX), return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX).

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Tags | highest number of satellites ISRO World record