T.S. Subramanian

Four satellites put in orbit; all eyes now on space capsule recovery

  • Text-book mission: Madhavan Nair
  • A big design achievement

    SRIHARIKOTA: In a "wonderfully" successful multi-mission, India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C7) majestically took off at 9.23 a.m. on Wednesday from its beachside launch pad at Sriharikota and injected four satellites one after another into precise orbit.

    Two satellites belong to India and two are from abroad. This is the PSLV's ninth successful launch in a row, proving that it is a trusted workhorse of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

    A highlight of the mission is that one of the four satellites called the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE) will be recovered on January 22 when it falls into the Bay of Bengal after staying in orbit for 11 days. This is the first time that the ISRO is attempting to recover a satellite a technological challenge on several fronts.

    Morale booster

    The PSLV-C7 success is a tremendous boost to the morale of the 15,000-strong ISRO community after the failure of its Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) on July 10, 2006.

    A jubilant G. Madhavan Nair, ISRO Chairman, said he had "no words" to describe the success of the "text-book mission." He added: "We have done it... We have put all the four satellites into required orbits. Our boys have done it. It has helped to capture back the confidence of the country in our space missions."

    Dr. B.N. Suresh, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, which built PSLV-C7, said: "Four satellites being injected into orbit with the same vehicle is a unique experience for us. There will be four or five launches this year from Sriharikota. This success has given a firm foundation to the launches planned this year."

    Of the four satellites, the ISRO's Cartosat-2 is for mapping purposes and its SRE will be a forerunner to the ISRO mastering the re-entry, recoverable and re-usable launch vehicle technologies.

    During its stay in orbit, the two payloads on board the SRE will help conduct experiments in micro-gravity.

    The two satellites from abroad are LAPAN-TUBSAT, a joint venture of Indonesia and the Technical University of Berlin, and the Pehuensat-I of Argentina.

    With the failure of the GSLV at the back of the mind of the PSLV-C7 mission team, the atmosphere was tense in the Mission Control Centre at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. To everybody's relief and joy, the 52-hour countdown went on smoothly without any hold whatsoever. Then, on the dot at 9.23 a.m., the four-stage, 44-metre tall PSLV, which weighs 295 tonnes, fired into life, rose from the first launch pad and cut a path into the clear sky, riding on flames and smoke, and emitting a deep roar that rolled across the island.

    All the PSLV-C7 systems functioned with clockwork precision. The four stages, including the six strap-on booster motors, ignited and jettisoned at precise moments. One could see with naked eye the separation of the strap-on motors. A beautiful ball of smoke formed when the first stage hived itself off.

    Finally, the fourth stage started injecting the four satellites into the orbit.

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