It is almost nineteen years since India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) made its first successful flight. On Monday, this trusty rocket, with a distinctive configuration involving solid and liquid propulsion in its core stages, maintained its richly deserved reputation for rugged reliability. In the course of an unbroken chain of 22 successful launches, it has carried 27 Indian spacecraft as well as 35 foreign ones to space. It has taken earth-viewing satellites, which typically orbit the earth from pole to pole, as well as those like the meteorological satellite, Kalpana-1, and the communication satellite, GSAT-12, that need to linger thousands of kilometres above the equator. It lofted India’s Chandrayaan-1 on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. In its latest flight, the rocket's fourth stage twisted and turned very precisely to eject seven satellites, one after another, into just the right orbits. The primary payload on this occasion was the Indo-French ‘Satellite with ARgos and ALtika’ (SARAL). It is equipped with an altimeter that allows sea surface height to be measured from space with greater precision than before. With sea levels rising as a result of a steadily warming climate, this satellite will join other altimeter-bearing spacecraft in ensuring continuity of observation over the oceans. A large number of Indian scientists are part of an international team that will be carrying out projects utilising the satellite’s data. With SARAL, the Indian Space Research Organisation has been able to demonstrate the basic structure, known in technical parlance as a ‘bus,’ for a 400-kg-class satellite. The same ‘Indian Mini Satellite (IMS) Bus series-2’ will go into ADITYA-1, the Indian space agency’s scientific mission to observe the Sun’s corona, scheduled for launch in three to four years’ time.
There are some important missions coming up for ISRO this year. The next launch is likely to be that of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) equipped with an indigenous cryogenic stage. The first flight with that indigenous stage three years ago had ended in failure and ISRO needs to show that it has mastered this difficult technology. The first of seven satellites for the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) is scheduled to go up later this year, as also the country’s first mission to Mars. A test of the more powerful GSLV Mark-III, with a dummy cryogenic stage, too is on the cards. Many challenges lie ahead and the Indian space agency must, in the words of President Pranab Mukherjee, who witnessed the latest launch, “raise the bar of its performance, scale greater heights and explore newer frontiers.”
This editorial has been corrected for a factual error