An Essay on the Space Programmes of India

Twenty first day of November, 1963 may be remembered as a red letter day in the history of India’s space programme. This was the day when first rocket from India was launched. It was also the day when Thumba Equatorial Launching station came into operation. The rocket was assembled in a nearby church which had been acquired for building the said station.

The first India made rocket lifted from Thumba in 1969. This 10 kg pencil rocket had propellants made in India and it was assembled in church building which is now a museum of space memorabilia. But it was the VSSC (Vikram Sarabhai Space Center) built SLV-3 which lifted India into the exclusive club of space faring nations on 18th July, 1980 by putting into orbit the 35 kg Rohini satellite. United States of America, Russia, Great Britain, France, Japan and China were the other members. Since then there is no looking bad. India’s space research was born on the VSSC campus. It has groups of specialists doing research in every field of rocketry including aerospace, aerodynamics, propulsion, avionics, thermo control structures and propellants. The aerospace group plays a key role in building launch vehicles.

Formally Indian’s launch programme was launched in 1972 when Space Commission and department of space were set up. The main objective of the programme was to provide space based services in spheres of communication, metrology, resources survey and management, develop satellites and launch vehicles and associated ground system. Our space programme can be divided into two parts:

(i) The Satellite Programme, and (ii) The Launch Programme.


There are five space centers where these programmes are carried on (i) Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) is situated in Thumba near Tiruvanthpuram in Kerela on 1000 acre campus. It is the centre for launch vehicle development, rocket research and planning and execution of launch vehicle development projects of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). Here rocket engineers freely discuss ISRO’s moon mission, the satellite that will be recovered from space, the GSLV mark III or the Indian version of space shuttle.

(ii) ISRO Internal Systems Unit (IISU) is located in Thiuvanthpuram (Kerela). Here the work of designing and development of inertial systems for both satellites and launch vehicles in carried on.

(iii) (iii) Space Application Centre (SAC) is located in Ahmedabad (Gujarat). It is the centre for research and development for conceiving, organizing and building systems for practical applications of space technology. The major fields of activity include satellite communications remote sensing and meteorology.

(iv) (iv) Liquid propulsion System Center (LPSC). This programme is carried on in Bangalore, Triuvanthpuram and Mahendregiri (Tamil Nadu).


(v) (v) SHAR center is situated at Shriharikota on the East coast of Andhra Pradesh and is the main Launch centre of ISRO. Large scale production of solid rocket popellent and ground testing of solid fueled rocket stages of launch vehicles is also carried over here.

Space craft engineers busy in building satellites which will make India self sufficient in space technology. The ISAC built INSA-3 E has already been airlifted to French Guiana where an Ariane-5 vehicle is going to put it into orbit. Commissioned in 1983 INSAT’s comprising of six space craft’s from the largest communication satellite systems in Asia-pacific region. Indigenization began with INSAT-2 series. INSAT 2-A was intended to be simply a test space craft but it worked so well that it was made into an operational satellite. ISRO’s approach was mission-oriented which was born out of the total vision of Vikram Sarabhai to apply space technology for the benefit of common man. ISRO is now implementing a space programme to raise the standard of living of the people through new and novice applications such as tele-medicine, tele-education and e-government. It is a holistic approach. Central to this approach are ISRO’s satellite and launch vehicles. In building satellites India has achieved world leadership. The Indian Remote Sensing satellites are among the best in the world on par with the French SPOT and USA’s LANDSAT.

ISSRO is on the verge of possessing RISAT (Rader Imaging Satellite) with its micro-wave imaging capability which can see through rain and clouds day and night and can provide imagery and information on soil moisture, water availability even during the monsoon season. Mapping of land mass shall become more precise when CARTOSTAT-1 with its high resolution cameras is launched by the year 2004. It is a unique mission in the world.

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Thirty seven India satellites have till now been deployed. The Tenth Plan period began with a positive note for India Space Technology. In September 2002 PSLV sent into orbit a meteorological satellite KALPANA-1 and in May 2003 the GSLV deployed the communication satellite GSAT. A PSLV carrying RESOURCESAT is expected to blast off in October 2003. 15 launches are expected during plan period with an average of three per year and a good number of these is expected to soar from the second launch pad by April 2004.

The second launch pad has been erected at the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Shriharikota. It looks like an up-scale multistoreyed apartment with elegant windows on different flowers, beautifully pained doors and spectacular walls. The centre piece of the launch pad is “Universal” launch pad. It has the flexibility to accommodate any type of vehicle after minor modification and without entailing major investment. A rocket weighing 1000 tones can be assembled in it. The launch tower is 76 meter high. It is made of steel and is painted in grey color. It is hardly one kilometer from the VAB (Vehicle Assemble Building).

The VAB (Vehicle Assemble Building) is 82 meter high, (27 stories) with 40 meters length and 32 meter width. It has two overhead cranes, one of which can lift weight up to 200 tones and the capacity of the other is 10 tones, it look for years to complete this VAB. It has six sets of foldable platforms to assemble the launch tower. The platforms can move from a height of 10 to 76 meters.

Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial wing of the Department of Space is scouring the world market for users for its PSLV’s, IRS’s and GSAT’s. On May 26, 1999 they put into orbit two small satellites TUBSAT of Germany and KITSAT-3 of the Republic of Korea. It launched two more- BIRD of Germany and PROBA of Belgium on October 22, 2001. Antrix has also an agreement with Singapore to deploy a 100 kg. Remote sensing satellite in 2005-6. Antrix is also seeking to exploit the GSLV to launch 2000 kg. Satellite in the geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). There is a demand to launch two or three satellites of this weight every year and this demand may continue for another for 8 years to come. Efforts are on to have a share in this market. With six straight successes the PSLV’s reliability and versality has drawn attention of customers.

ISRO is planning a lunar mission in 2007-08. Around the same time it expects to send up the technology demonstrator of a reusable launch vehicle which will blast off from Shriharikota and return to land in an Indian Air Force base. The operational RLV will become a reality in about twenty years. Its booster will splash down in the sea and shall be recovered while the arbiter will put the satellite into orbit and return to a regular landing.

Application of Indian space programme for Defense has become note-worthy. It is believed that indigenous remote sensing satellite, launched by an Indian Launch Vehicle, clears the way for a military satellite for future. An independent double purpose satellite will give India a cutting edge in the intelligence based warfare-a warfare which requires sophisticated reconnaissance and surveillance capability. Defense analysts fell that 21st century war would require a dedicated surveillance capability. The revolution in Military Affaires being adopted by top armed forces all over the world requires a network of information which can be gathered with the help of satellite between field commanders in war theatre. Military satellites can be used during peace times as well to implement confidence building measures between two countries. The development of Technology Experiment Satellites (TES) which offers one meter resolution Images has helped in monitoring the movements of Pakistan’s forces. After U.S.A. India is the only country in the world to possess a satellite like TES. It has a life of three years by which time it will be replaced by more sophisticated satellites.

To conclude, according to Dr. Satyabrete Mukherjee, Union Minister of State. India’s space programme is mainly directed towards the development and application of space technology in a self reliant manner for the benefit of the masses. During the last 30 years our space systems have become an important part of our national development infra-structure-the INSAT system for communication, television broadcasting, meteorological services and disaster warning and the India’s Remote-sensing Satellite (IRS) system for resources monitoring and management. We have achieved self reliance in designing and building state of the art INSAT and IRS satellites. The IRS satellites are now launched using our own launch vehicle. The PSLV and the commissioners of GSLV in May 2003 after its second successful test flight have made us self reliant to launch 2-Tome class communication satellites. INSAT 3-E was successfully launched on September 28 by an Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou French Guyana. The satellite has a 12 year life span. It will be used exclusively for communication and broadcasting purposes.

Among the Asian countries India is only the third country to have capability to design and develop satellites and launch vehicles. More important, we have established leadership in satellites and state of the art communication satellites. Today the data from our remote sensing satellites are received world over on commercial basis and the capacity of our INSAT’s has been leased to international customers. With the commissioning of the GSLV we are the sixth nation to acquire geo-synchronous launch capability.

Having had a strong foundation we will, in the coming years constantly upgrade our space systems both in terms of capacity and technological capability. The forth-coming INSAT satellites, INSAT-4 series will have more transponders with better output power. Emphasis will be upon specific applications such as an exclusive satellite for education will be launched by GSLV in the year 2004. In the remote sensing area a satellite was scheduled for the year 2003. Further CARTOSAT-1, an exclusive satellite for mapping is planned for the year 2004. These are to be followed by RISAT which will have day and night observation capability even under cloudy conditions. Space science will get an impulse through ASTROLAT and planetary mission, which are proposed to be included with an unmanned space craft to the moon. Satellite imaginary has been put to use in economic and development activities, thus realizing Vikram Sarabhai’s dream of applying advanced technology to the real problems of society. We have completely tuned our space programme to suit the development needs of the nation.

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