T.S. Subramanian

Against odds, PSLV-C11 successfully puts spacecraft into initial orbit

CHENNAI: India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C11) on Wednesday morning successfully put Chandrayaan-1 into its initial orbit, marking the spacecraft’s long journey to the Moon. This is the first time India is sending a spacecraft to the Moon, 3.84 lakh km away. India is the sixth country to do so, after Russia, the U.S., the European Space Agency, Japan and China. It will be three weeks before Chandrayaan-1 reaches its final destination of 100-km orbit around the moon.

It was a dramatic end to a long-awaited event. Suspense and tension hung over the mission with rains and thunderstorms lashing the Sriharikota spaceport for the past five days and threatening to disrupt the lift-off. However, Team ISRO worked against all odds and won the day.

G. Madhavan Nair, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), called the success “a historical moment” and “the beginning of a new era” in India’s space exploration programme. “Our journey to the Moon has just begun. Everything went on perfectly well. It is a remarkable performance by the PSLV.”

The rocket imparted the right velocity, attitude and orbit to the spacecraft, with a perigee of 256 km and an apogee of 22,866 km, marking the accomplishment of “the first leg and perhaps the most difficult part of the mission.” Subsequently, the propulsion system on board Chandrayaan-1 will be fired in stages to take it to the Moon and “stick” it in the lunar orbit at an altitude of 100 km.

Dramatic moments

Mr. Nair dwelt at length on the odds posed by the weather: “This mission had a lot of dramatic moments after the launch vehicle came to the launch complex … What we faced in the last five days was really an ordeal. The Sriharikota team has really done a remarkable job. We were racing against time. Last evening [Tuesday], we lost 10 hours of countdown. We lost all hope of the launch in the morning [Wednesday] … But the rains kept away and we just made it at 6.22 a.m.”

As the PSLV-C11 sizzled into life on the dot at 6.22 a.m., it climbed up on a massive column of flames and smoke. But it could be seen only for a few seconds before it disappeared into the dark clouds blanketing the sky. The four stages ignited and fell away on time. Eighteen minutes and 20 seconds after the lift-off, the fourth stage of the PSLV-C11 injected Chandrayaan-1 into its initial orbit at a velocity of 9.25 km a second. It was V-sign everywhere at Sriharikota.

M. Annadurai, Project Director, Chandrayaan-1, said the spacecraft’s band of 11 instruments and the wide spectrum of experiments they would perform “are unparalleled.” They would “enhance India’s image internationally because India will be part of the select group with a capability to study the planets directly.”

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