The Indian space agency is expected to take a major step in January towards realising its next generation rocket by ground-firing the world's third largest - in terms of fuel mass and length - solid rocket booster developed in-house.

An Indian Space Reasearch Organisation (ISRO) official said: "The large solid propellant booster project was taken up nearly a decade ago and will achieve its first milestone next month."

Recently, ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan said the static testing of the booster will happen soon.

The 200-tonne solid propellant rocket booster - designed to power ISRO's next generation (geosynchronous launch vehicle) GSLV Mark III - will be ground tested at India's space port Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, 80 km from here.

The stage is expected to burn for 103 seconds.

In terms of fuel mass and length GSLV Mark III's 200 tonne, 25 metre long solid boosters will rank after US Space Shuttle's booster (fuel mass of 440 tonne, 37.8 metre) and Europe's Ariane (fuel mass 240 tonne, length 31.6 metre).

Measured in terms of diametre ISRO's new solid booster will rank second in the world with 3.2 metre while that of Space Shuttle and Ariane measure were 3.6 metre and 3.05 metre respectively.

As to fuel burn time the ranking will be in the order of Ariane (130 seconds), Space Shuttle (123 seconds) and GSLV Mark III (103 seconds).

However, the US is developing much larger first stage solid rocket motor for its new rocket Ares1. The diametre is 3.77 metre, length 52 metre with a propellant capacity of 625 tonne with a burn time of 123 seconds.

While the US recovers Space Shuttle booster steel casings for re-use, ISRO has no such plans as it requires parachutes for soft landing on the Indian seas and the issues relating to reuse.

"The steel casing has to be cleaned of salt deposits and refurbished for re-0use," the ISRO official told IANS on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The 42.4-metre-tall GSLV Mark III rocket with a lift off weight of 630 tonne is being designed to reach towards the heavens sometime in 2011 carrying communication satellites weighing upto five tonne thereby making India self sufficient in respect of launch vehicles.

The first stage of the three fuel stage rocket will be two identical solid boosters strapped onto the second stage, the L110 re-startable liquid stage.

The third stage is the cryogenic stage powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The large payload fairing measures 5 metre in diameter and can accommodate a payload volume of 100 cubic metre.

ISRO's existing rockets - the three stage GSLV and four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)- has a lower carrying capacity.

The present GSLV can carry a luggage of 2.5 tonne to be ejected in geo-transfer orbit (GTO) while PSLV can sling 1.6 tonne and 1.1 tonne satellites into polar orbit and GTO respectively.

Interestingly, January 2010 will be a landmark month in ISRO's calendar for one more reason.

The space agency will be flying its GSLV powered by its own cryogenic engine.

Solid propellant boosters of different rockets

Parameter Space Shuttle Ariane 5 GSLV MK III

USA Europe India

1. Diameter (metre) 3.6 3.05 3.2

2. Length (metre) 37.8 31.6 25

3. Number of Segments 4 3 3

4. Propellant Type Ap+Al+ HTPB Ap+Al+ HTPB Ap+Al+HTPB

5. Total Mass (tonne) 500 276 220

6. Propellant Mass (tonne) 440 240 200

7. Average Thrust(tons) 1,040 500 400

8. Nozzzle gimballing 8 degree 6 degree 8 degree

9. Firing duration (seconds) 123 130 103

10. Motor case Material Steel Steel Steel

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