India's determination to become a commercial space power is beginning to pay dividends

Tim Furniss/LONDON


India has underscored its determination to become "a space power in the next century" by developing a geostationary satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) with which to enter the international commercial launch market.

Not only is each launch - worth $90 million - financially attractive, but the GSLV will also give India geostationary orbiting satellite launch autonomy for its national communications satellites.

India's development of the GSLV follows a step-by-step process that began when it launched the 35kg (75lb) Rohini 1B satellite aboard the SLV3 satellite launch vehicle in July 1980. India followed the Soviet Union, the USA, France, China, Japan and the UK into the indigenous satellite launch league.

The latest step in the process is India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), on which it will partly base the GSLV. On 26 May, the PSLV carried a national ocean-monitoring satellite and two mini-satellites, from Germany and South Korea, into low earth orbit.

The countries paid India's Antrix, which markets the services developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a "promotional price" for the piggyback rides.

Further modest PSLV contracts for mini-satellites are in the offing, including a Belgian research satellite, the Proba. India would also like to win a contract for the PSLV to carry primary commercial payloads, including mobile communications satellites such as Globalstars. ISRO says it can undercut other companies by 30% on price.

The PSLV will launch five more national remote sensing satellites up to 2002, including the Cartosat, to be launched in 2000-1. This will be equipped with a panchromatic camera with a spy-satellite-class resolution of 2.5m (8ft). Ostensibly intended for civilian purposes, it could conceivably be used for keeping an eye on India's neighbour, Pakistan.

Political and technological difficulties, particularly with the cryogenic upper stage engine, have pushed back the GSLV's maiden flight. Until it produces a cryogenic unit indigenously, India will use Russian engines for the GSLV upper stage in the first missions.

The GSLV's first core stage will be an improved version of the solid propellant S125 motor, which is also the first core stage of the PSLV. This motor has a thrust of 786,500lb (3,500kN) at launch and a burn time of 103s.

First stage thrust will be augmented by four liquid-propellant strap-on boosters powered by the Vikas hypergolic engine that boosts the second stage of the PSLV.

This was the first liquid propellant engine to be developed in India. Each Vikas booster has a thrust of 165,000lb and a burn time of 158s. The GSLV second stage is also derived from the PSLV's Vikas second stage.

Originally, the third stage was to have been the Russian cryogenic liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen KVD-1, which was part of the giant N-1 manned moon booster that was never tested successfully. The KVD-1 is also to be used as the improved upper stage of the Russian Proton booster.

A contract for the supply of this engine was signed with Russia in 1991. Under its terms, two engines would have been built and India would have developed a cryogenic engine based on technology transferred from Russia. The contract was ended under pressure from the USA, which cited the Missile Technology Control Regime treaty, and India lost two years of GSLV development. It pressed on to develop its own cryogenic engine without Russian help, but hit a series of problems, including an explosion during a sub-scale engine test in 1993.

Production of the full-scale pressure-fed engine began in April 1994, and a successful 1min firing at the Mahendragiri test centre in February last year was a major milestone in its development.

While engine development continued, India re-entered a contract in 1996 with Russia for the supply of three KVD-1s for $9 million, with technology transfer excluded. The contract was increased in 1995 to seven engines, including four firm orders and three options.

Increasing capability

The 402t, 49m-tall, GSLV will be able to place a 2,550kg (5,600lb) payload into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), enabling it to launch national Insat-class satellites, as well as matching the capability of the smallest Ariane 4, China's Long March 3A and exceeding the GTO capability of the Boeing Delta II.

The development of a larger cryogenic engine, the C-20, is planned to increase the GSLV's GTO capability to 3,500kg, equivalent to that of an Ariane 42L or Long March 2E.

Soon after the milestone PSLV launch on 26 May, work started at the Sriharikota launch site to prepare it for the first GSLV test flight early next year. The vehicle will carry a G-Sat demonstration communications satellite payload into GTO.

Later launches will carry Insat 3-series spacecraft. The Insat 3A and 3B satellites, however, will be launched by Europe's Arianespace, the market leader for commercial launches.

India hopes that, by the time further Insats are ready, so will be the GSLV. Equipping the booster with an Ariane-compatible satellite adaptor could gain it additional business. An agreement between ISRO and Arianespace agreement means that the GSLV could launch subcontracted Arianespace payloads.

"Our determination is to make India a space power in the next century-so that India's scientists are second to none," says the country's prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Source: Flight International