Leveraging the Space Technology
There was a time when Space exploration programs were all about the firsts- the first satellite on space(Sputnik- USSR-1957), the first manned mission on moon(Apollo 11-USA-1969). These were the metrics for determining superiority in the conflicts of the Cold War. The purpose they ended up serving was, albeit larger- enriching the scientific knowledge resource base for space exploration at a tremendous, accelerated scale.The benefits of these technologies were accessible to roughly all parts of the world, thanks to the dual spheres of influence.
India’s Space program had a humble start in the Yenadi tribal forested lands of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Covered in eucalyptus and casuarina, the area was transformed on the directive of the legendary Dr Vikram Sarabhai, acknowledged in general as the father of India’s Space Program. The Space Science and Technology centre established at Thumba in 1960s, has now been transformed as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.(VSCC). It is here that the facility of Sriharikota Space launch, also known as the SHAR complex exists. The first rocket was launched from the beaches of Thumba’s Equatorial Launching Space Station in 1963.
When India placed a 50 kg Rohini satellite in space in July 1980, through SLV-3 launcher, it joined a highly exclusive Space club of US, USSR, Japan, Europe, China. What set India apart from these nations was that India’s Space program was developed more in the civilian domain than military. The desire was not to gain global leverage through a superiority exhibit.The approach was to set a platform from which tools of technology could be so deployed, so as to make modern day knowledge accessible to the last mile user- the ordinary citizen, for assisting in daily life tasks, through weather monitoring, telecommunication and scientific exploration for medicinal and knowledge augmentation.
The Technological Achievements of ISRO
Indian Space Research Organization, has through its nearly 50 year journey, achieved several milestones, some with the help of world institutions like NASA, European Space Agency, Roscosmos( Russian Space and Aviation Agency), among others, and some attained ingenuously, when global politics stonewalled us with technology denial. The space milestones we have achieved are no mean feat, as being a new, developing country, we always had additional straws to carry.
All the achievements, whether incrementally obtained or phenomenally in the maiden attempt, have been based on two overarching technical platforms- the launch vehicle program and fuel technology.
The Launch Vehicle Program
What are launchers?
Launchers are basically, a mechanism to transport the satellite/payloads to space destinations. The ISRO Launch Vehicle Programme was started at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. With obvious budgetary constraints, it is a track record of high accuracy, that has made possible placing of satellites in space orbits, through immaculate planning. ISRO’s Launch Vehicle Program spans numerous centres and employs over 5,000 people.It is crucial, not only for space exploration but military launches also.
Understanding of Orbits.
The Launch Program is tied to the satellite orbits which are of three types-
1)Low Earth Orbit- From 160–2000Kms above the surface of earth.A special case of LEO is the Polar Earth Orbit. In this, the satellites move from one pole to another, and every twenty four hours, they complete multiple revolutions.Therefore they cover different places and are known as earth observation satellites, used mainly for resource monitoring, pollution watch, cartography, agriculture study and weather related information.
2)Medium Earth Orbit-It is an intermediate orbit of 2000Kms above earth elevation.
3)Geostationary Earth Orbit-These are used mainly for telecommunication satellites, like INSAT and GSAT. the height of the orbit is 36000Kms. The telecommunication satellites are always placed above the equator being co-planar with the equatorial and orbital plane.
The Fuel Power
1)Solid Fuel- Aluminium powder bound by HTBP(Hydroxyl Terminated Poly Butadiene) The biggest advantage is the stability and noncorrosive nature. The main disadvantage is that the engine based on solid fuel cannot be switched ON and OFF repeatedly, because the fuel and oxidizer are in the same chamber.
2)Liquid Fuel- UDH(Unsymmetrical Diemethyl Hydroziene) provide better thrust than solid fuels and engines based on them could be switched On and OFF multiple times. The flip side is the highly corrosive nature.
3)Cryogenic-It is the application of temperatures less than -150 degrees(b.p. of hydrogen). Cryogenic engine uses hydrogen as fuel(-253 degrees)and liquid oxygen(-183 degrees) as the oxidizer. Such engines give the maximum thrust in the context of Indian programs, as cryogenic fuel is the most vital part of the GSLVs.
SLV- Satellite Launch Vehicle.
It was a 4 stage(all based on solid fuel) launch program, out of which only 2 were successful. With information acquired through this program, the Prithvi(all nuclear capable)missiles were launched.
ASLV- Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle.
All 5 stages were solid fuel propellant based.
PSLV- Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
This is ISRO’s most important and reliable workhorse with the maximum launches being planned through this. Some of ISRO’s most iconic missions like Chandrayan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission, Indian Regional Navigation Satellite Systems, have all been launched through this.Its basic prototype has 4 stages with alternating solid and liquid fuel and 6 boosters(solid fuel). It has the second best world record of carrying multiple satellites in the same flight. This technology will enable India to develop future MIRVs- Multiple Independent Targeted Re-entry Vehicles.These are Ballistic Missiles, each projected to carry 3–10 nuclear warheads, each striking a different location.This will guarantee Second Strike Capability, a crucial asset in any nation’s arsenal for the purpose of deterrence.
ISRO has evolved the following variants of PSLV:-
2) PSLV-CA(Core Alone)- 1100 kgs(4S)
3)PSLV-XL-1800Kgs(4S+6 Integrated Boosters)
4)PSLV- HP-2000Kgs(4S+2 Boosters)
GSLV- Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.
This was built to launch the INSAT class of satellites in the Geostationary Transfer Orbits. GSLV’s have three stage vehicles- solid, liquid and cryogenic powered respectively, and there are 4 boosters- all liquid.The payload capacity is usually around 2.5 tonne.
Initially, the GSLV’s used Russian cryogenic engine in GSLV- Mark I, however in 1993, Russia refused to transfer the cryogenic technology to India on grounds that India was not a part of Missile Technology Control Regime(the group that governed the transfer and control of technology that could be used in missiles or any sub-systems aiding the proliferation of such missiles).
This move, thrust India on the route to indigenization,and it developed the C-25, the first Indian built cryogenic engine that was tested in GSLV-D5, and was subsequently used in GSLV-D6 and even the latest GSLV F-09 that launched the recent South Asian Satellite.This was subsequently used in the GSLV Mark II with a payload of 2.5 tonnes.
With India joining the MTCR in June 2016, the space program is expected to receive a major boost in terms of advanced technology sharing with international space organizations. GSLV — Mark III. It is a next generation launch vehicle,based on the same configuration as the GSLV Mark- II but with an additional payload capacity of 4.5 tonne.
RLV- Re Usable Launch vehicle.
The objective of this design would be to save on costs by using the same launch vehicle for launching multiple satellites in different time frames. It is expected that by 2030, it will manage to transport satellites weighing 10000–20000kgs in LEO as against 13000 kgs of Falcon 9 of USA’s Space X.If successfully achieved, this technology could be further scaled up and would be a defining point for commercialization of the launch vehicle program of ISRO. Scientifically, the aims include possibility of sending manned missions to space. For this, ISRO has to develop not just technical expertise but a broader funding pattern through commercialization.
It is designed as a two stage to orbit process. The first would be semi-cryogenic which means that hydrogen would be replace by kerosene or isrosene(the fuel developed by ISRO — Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre and ISRO Propulsion Complex, located at Valiamala and Mahendragiri respectively, develop the liquid and cryogenic stages for these launch vehicles). At the end of the first stage, it will detach and glide back at a pre determined location. In the second stage, it will place the satellite in space, de-orbit, and have a soft landing with the help of a balloon.
In May 2016, ISRO had successfully conducted the test of RLV-TD(Technology Demonstrator), from SDSC SHAR Sriharikota validating the critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance & control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management.
For the purpose of RLV- 4 experiments have been planned.
a)HEX- Hypersonic Flight Experiment(Speed= 5 times that of sound)
b) LEX-Landing Flight Experiment(on a temporary platform in Bay of Bengal)
c) Re-entry flight experiment- This is the most challenging of all the tasks, as the window for the angle of re-entry is very narrow. If the angle is too sharp, then the friction may serially damage the system, or else if it is too shallow, then it will get deflected in outer atmosphere.
d) SCRAMJET- It is supersonic combustible RAMJET. In RAMJET Technology, the vehicle filters the atmospheric oxygen and stores it. In August 2016, ISRO became the 4th space agency after Russia, US, and Europe to successfully test the SCRAMJET Engines. The advantage of SCRAMJET Technology vis a vis GSLV is, that in the latter 70% of propellant in the rocket is oxidized, whereas SCRAMJET does not require any oxidizer. This will help in cutting down the mass/weight of the carrier drastically. In the experiment, the SCRAMJET engine was part of a 2 stage ATV(Advanced Technology Vehicle) which was RH-560(Rohini series of sounding rockets used to study the upper atmosphere). The first stage of the ATV was a solid, rocket booster which carried SCRAMJET to a height of 70kms. SCRAMJET coasted up and reached a speed of 6 Mach and after that the engine fired for 5 seconds.
Some other futuristic technology in this arena would include the LVM3, a highly superior GSLV, and AVATAR- India’s hybrid of a rocket and a jet, a joint venture between ISRO and DRDO, which hopes to send 100 flights in outer space.
The civilian cornerstone of India’s Space Program.
The multiple satellites of ISRO have been silently benefitting the common man’s day to day life’s activities. Whether urban planning or agricultural overview, pollution and weather monitoring to telecommunication and telemedicine to EDUSAT, there is something for everyone.
As sourced from ISRO’s website, the details are as follows:-
The Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system is one of the largest domestic communication satellite systems in Asia-Pacific region with nine operational communication satellites placed in Geo-stationary orbit. Established in 1983 with commissioning of INSAT-1B, it initiated a major revolution in India’s communications sector and sustained the same later. GSAT-18 joins the constellation of INSAT System consisting 14 operational satellites, namely — INSAT-3A, 3C, 4A, 4B, 4CR, 3DR and GSAT-6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 16.
The INSAT system with more than 200 transponders in the C, Extended C and Ku-bands provides services to telecommunications, television broadcasting, satellite newsgathering, societal applications, weather forecasting, disaster warning and Search and Rescue operations.
Earth Observation Satellites
Starting with IRS-1A in 1988, ISRO has launched many operational remote sensing satellites. Today, India has one of the largest constellations of remote sensing satellites in operation. Currently, *thirteen* operational satellites are in Sun-synchronous orbit — RESOURCESAT-1, 2, 2A CARTOSAT-1, 2, 2A, 2B, RISAT-1 and 2, OCEANSAT-2, Megha-Tropiques, SARAL and SCATSAT-1, and *four* in Geostationary orbit- INSAT-3D, Kalpana & INSAT 3A, INSAT -3DR. Varieties of instruments have been flown onboard these satellites to provide necessary data in a diversified spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions to cater to different user requirements in the country and for global usage. The data from these satellites are used for several applications covering agriculture, water resources, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.
Satellite Navigation service is an emerging satellite based system with commercial and strategic applications. ISRO is committed to provide the satellite based Navigation services to meet the emerging demands of the Civil Aviation requirements and to meet the user requirements of the positioning, navigation and timing based on the independent satellite navigation system. To meet the Civil Aviation requirements, ISRO is working jointly with Airport Authority of India (AAI) in establishing the GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) system. To meet the user requirements of the positioning, navigation and timing services based on the indigenous system, ISRO is establishing a regional satellite navigation system called Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).
This is a Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) implemented jointly with Airport Authority of India (AAI). The main objectives of GAGAN are to provide Satellite-based Navigation services with accuracy and integrity required for civil aviation applications and to provide better Air Traffic Management over Indian Airspace. The system will be interoperable with other international SBAS systems and provide seamless navigation across regional boundaries. The GAGAN Signal-In-Space (SIS) is available through GSAT-8 and GSAT-10.
This is an independent Indian Satellite based positioning system for critical National applications. The main objective is to provide Reliable Position, Navigation and Timing services over India and its neighbourhood, to provide fairly good accuracy to the user. The IRNSS will provide basically two types of services
Standard Positioning Service (SPS)
Restricted Service (RS)
Space Segment consists of seven satellites, three satellites in GEO stationary orbit (GEO) and four satellites in Geo Synchronous Orbit (GSO) orbit with inclination of 29° to the equatorial plane. This constellation of seven satellites was named as “NavIC” (Navigation Indian Constellation) by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi and dedicated to the Nation on the occasion of successful launch of IRNSS-1G, the seventh and last satellite of NavIC. All the satellites will be visible at all times in the Indian region. All the seven Satellites of NavIC, namely, IRNSS-1A, 1B, 1C, ID,1E, 1F and 1G were successfully launched on July 02, 2013, Apr 04, 2014, Oct 16, 2014, Mar 28, 2015, Jan 20, 2016, Mar 10, 2016 and Apr 28, 2016 respectively and all are functioning satisfactorily from their designated orbital positions.
Ground Segment is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the IRNSS constellation. It provides the monitoring of the constellation status, computation of the orbital and clock parameters and navigation data uploading. The Ground segment comprises of TTC & Uplinking Stations, Spacecraft Control Centre, IRNSS Timing Centre, CDMA Ranging Stations, Navigation Control Centre and Data Communication Links. Space segment is compatible with single frequency receiver for Standard Positioning Service (SPS), dual frequency receiver for both SPS & RS service and a multi mode receiver compatible with other GNSS providers.
ISRO has had immense assistance from international space agencies which have helped in implementing our long term visions.
The Centre national d’études spatiales is the French government space agency. It has been instrumental in setting up the crucial SHAR complex at Sriharikota, which is the main base for testing and launching satellites.Not only this, India has had a long, fruitful association with Arianespace, the CNES launching complex. For India, the really major breakthrough in liquid propulsion systems came in 1974 when ISRO signed an agreement with the Societe Europeenne de Propulsion (SEP) located in Vernon, France.Notably, this agreement was done without any exchange of funds.Since then, the relationship has evolved to be one of deep symbiotic ties. The Spot-6 and Spot-7, one of the most precise European observation satellites were launched with Indian assistance.The Megha-Tropique( weather monitoring satellite) was developed with French assistance. India helped in developing of Arian-5 rockets and the GSAT 18 communication satellite was launched from Kourou(French base). There is no other field in which Indo-French relations extend that deep.
The past may have been one of missed opportunities but the future is packed with projects. There is the establishment of Joint Working Group on MARS, with findings of MAVEN, MOM and other missions being brought on the same plane.
Also, the recently announced NISAR program wherein the two will jointly build the largest Earth observation satellite. NISAR would be based on RADARs and would look to develop two apertures- L- Band with 24 cm radius by NASA and the S- band of 13cm radius by ISRO by 2021. This would extensively cover a host of process observations that would comprehensively add to our understanding of natural phenomenon like volcano origins, monsoons and climate change patterns, something that people the world over have a deep quest for.
Space- the Formidable Frontier.
We are living in an era where space technology is the single agency which holds the potential for a great cataclysmic changes in not just political world order, but also in our economic and scientific precepts. ISRO’s future missions of Chandrayan-2, Mangalayan-2 and Aditya L-1( the one to study solar winds and their impact) are reflective of a long term vision in this regard. Discoveries made as a result of space explorations are not void.The spin-off from space technology is evident in our daily lives. From greater connectivity assisting ATM cash withdrawals, to distance education to distance relationships, all of it has been made possible by the exponential growth of space technology.Medical diagnosis, observation, synthesis of complex molecules(micro gravity theory)have been made possible through technical breakthroughs in space.In India, medical applications in terms of composite materials for heart stents and callipers for polio affected patients are some
No wonder parallel to the trade cum arms race, there is a space race in existence for geopolitical supremacy in South Asia. China’s String of Pearls extended not just to building of naval and trade bases in ports surrounding the Indian Ocean, but also and more significantly to launching satellites on behalf of countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.It is also in talks with Maldives, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal on future satellite launches. Buoyed by the $40 billion Silk Road Fund, and the $100 billion AIIB one, China is going all out in bolstering its presence in South Asia through largess offerings of every kind, including space technology. We would ignore, at our own detriment, the progress of Chinese sponsored Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, which had been in talks with the erstwhile Sri Lankan President for building a Space launch station cum academy in Sri Lanka.India’s recent launch of the South Asia Satellite GSAT-9, under which transponders for telecommunication have been installed in all SAARC nations except Pakistan, will be a great platform to offer free essential services, and expand India’s influence.With Bangladesh also developing its own communication satellite Bangabandhu-1, now is not the time to sit in complacency over recent achievements.To effectively counteract China’s influence, India needs to integrate its Act East policy with its Space Missions. The make or break for this is going to be funding, as the one who provides the most cost effective space based solutions to existing problems will ultimately have the upper hand. ISRO’s decision of commercializing its flagship PSLV division by 2020 could not have come at a more opportune moment.Notably,this is close on the heels of Chinese outer space start ups like Landspace and Onespace.
If there is anything that is infinitely complex and yet so beautiful, it is the space.Einstein’s one single Theory of Relativity changed the way the world functioned. Yet the Newton-Einstein gravity based models could not explain the movements of galaxies on their estimated mass.The reasoning is confined to the phrase called ‘dark matter’. Interestingly, if Einstein- Newton model is foolproof that would make dark matter irrelevant, if not, that would expose a significant chink in the genius’ armour, as Margot Brouwer of Leiden University is trying to analyse(https://qz.com/876531/a-theory-that-challenges-newtons-and-einsteins-gravity-and-nixes-dark-matter-passed-its-first-test/). Here, once again the Chinese have taken a lead by establishing QUESS- Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, an international research project in the field of quantum computing with a Quantum satellite of its own. What is noteworthy about the satellite, is its hackproof quantum encoded communication technology, which is based on quantum entanglement, a phenomenon closely linked to dark matter.
Space is an undefined frontier, but a powerful one. India, has had visionaries like Dr Sarabhai and APJ Abdul Kalaam in the past, who have been responsible for making India a key player in space dynamics. We still have a lot of ground to cover, but our innate strengths can be, and should be leveraged to augment our strategic interests across the spectrum.