Its yet another feather on the ISRO’s cap; they have successfully launched first operational flight of GSLV with the indigenous cryogenic engine. The GSLV-F05 took off from spaceport of Sriharikota at 16:50 hrs (IST) on September 08, 2016. In this flight, GSLV successfully launched and placed 2211 kg INSAT-3DR, an advanced meteorological satellite into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). After reaching GTO, INSAT-3DR will use its own propulsion system to reach its final geosynchronous orbit. ISRO’s Master Control Facility at Hassan, Karnataka will take control of the satellite and perform the initial orbit raising maneuvers and place it in circular Geostationary Orbit.
GSLV-F05 flight is significant since it is the first operational flight of GSLV carrying Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS). ISRO had carried out three developmental flights earlier, the first one in April 2010 plunged into Bay of Bengal minutes after take-off, but subsequently in January 2014 and August 2015, ISRO successfully launched GSLV-D5 and GSLV-D6 with indigenous cryogenic engine. Cryogenic rocket technology involves the use of super-cooled liquid fuels to produce massive amount of thrust in order to lift heavy payloads into space. GSLV is a three-stage launch vehicle and a cryogenic engine is used in the third stage.
Cryogenic engines use liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxidizer to burn the fuel. Oxygen liquefies at -183oC and Hydrogen at -253oC. It can produce 1.5 times the thrust compared to liquid rocket engines. These engines are essential to put satellites in geostationary orbit, but the technology to burn a super-cooled fuel at extremely high temperatures is very sophisticated.
The indigenisation of cryogenic technology is all the more important since it will open opportunity for the Antrix (Commercial arm of ISRO) in the growing global space market. The United States had stalled transfer of cryogenic technology to India from erstwhile USSR under the garb of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) because of its dual use. On January 18, 1991 ISRO had signed an agreement with the Russian space agency Glavkosmos for the transfer of cryogenic technology but, in May 1992 the United States imposed sanctions on ISRO and Glavkosmos. Though Americans had offered India same technology and had made no objections during the period 1988-92 when negotiations with US and France were on. It was clear that US never wanted India to get heavy lift capability, since its ultra-low cost would one day put NASA out of business. Though ISRO’s scientists had to struggle hard for many years, but ultimately they have built, validated and operationalized a perfectly working cryogenic engine.
While today’s success is a landmark achievement which gives ISRO capability to lift up to 2500 kg satellite into space, but it will have to further work on to increase the capability to 5000 kgs so as to lift most of the contemporary communication satellites. This will also help India in its mission to Moon, Mars and human space flight. ISRO is planning to launch GSLV Mark III later this year, with high thrust cryogenic engine (CE-20) which will give lift capability up to 4000 kgs.
Hereon, ISRO will have to keep launching more and more GSLVs to establish its reliability as it has done for PSLV. This will give confidence to other nations to use ISRO’s facilities for commercial launch of their satellites. Antrix will have to increase its capability to take on more launches per year and in doing so it will have to look for larger participation from the Private Industry. This will also pave way for India’s increased presence in Space and fulfill its future missions.