In a major step towards the launch of the country's first recoverable satellite, set for next year, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has air-dropped a 500kg (1,100lb) capsule from a helicopter 16,500ft (5,000m) over Pulicat Lake close to the Sriharikota Island launch centre.

During the second drop test on 19 August, the three parachutes opened sequentially as planned, the capsule touched down on the marshy edge of the lake and was recovered by ISRO personnel. The first drop test was conducted in late June.

The Space Recovery Experiment (SRE) is planned to fly alongside India's Cartosat-2 imaging satellite on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The automated spacecraft will conduct microgravity experiments in orbit, then demonstrate technology for de-orbit, re-entry and recovery to a splashdown in the Bay of Bengal.

The SRE capsule consists of a spacecraft platform with two microgravity payloads, the aero-thermal structure, and deceleration and flotation systems. As well as developing technologies for future reusable launch vehicles, the SRE project will provide India with experience in atmospheric re-entry, which will be crucial for any future manned space mission.

ISRO, meanwhile, is to build a new solid-propellant plant at Sriharikota capable of producing 2,500t of propellant a year to support the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) programme. A second GSLV launch pad will be built at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota.

The maiden flight of the uprated MkIII version of the GSLV is planned for 2007-8. Designed to launch 4t-class communications satellites, and capable of placing 10t payloads into low- Earth orbit, the GSLV MkIII "will be the mainstay for accessing space in the next decade or two", says ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair.

The design phase of the MkIII programme is complete, says Nair. The three-stage vehicle - with 110t liquid-propellant core stage, two 200t strap-on solid-propellant boosters, and 25t cryogenic upper stage - would be used for any Indian manned space mission.



Source: Flight International