The GSLV-F05 launch on September 8 will be routinely low-key but is of immense significance in India’s Space journey. The country started on the GSLV rocket plan in the late 1980s and early 1990s so as to be able to put its 2,000-kg communication satellites to geosynchronous orbits at 36,000 km in space from its own soil. It suffered a setback from geopolitics combined with high-technology commerce: Russia, at the behest of the USA, went back on a deal to transfer critical cryogenic technology for the last and crucial stage of the rocket. Starting in the mid-1990s, ISRO has developed its own cryo engine and has tested it on three vehicles since 2010.
Twenty years on, that old dream vehicle is about to become ready for regular work. On the eve of its flight carrying the weather satellite INSAT-3DR, A.S.Kiran Kumar, ISRO Chairman and the fifth to preside over the GSLV programme, speaks to Madhumathi D.S. about what it means to our country.
Do you feel a sense of achievement or closure as the vehicle is about to become operational?
Actually our thoughts are on the backlog that is to be completed! We must make sure that we are able to put them together and bring them up for launch.
This would be the fourth vehicle to fly with our own cryo engine. From now on the target is for two GSLV launches a year, which means a launch every six months. It took us a year between the last one and this. We want to improve that. Currently we are looking forward to streamlining and making the GSLV operational.
How is it to be done?
Everybody is being pushed to improve deliveries and time schedules. We are ensuring the supplying industries are able to provide their part. They have to gradually gear up. That is one of the reasons why we are not able to fully implement our plan. Also, for some time there was a lull [in GSLVs between 2010 and 2014] including problems with the launch vehicle itself.
In these 20-odd years, what was lost and gained?
Whenever there is technology denial, when something is not [made] available there is that extra effort to make it happen within a certain time. In terms of technology, materials and others. [Which we achieved.]
[Had there been no technology hitch,] We would have moved ahead much earlier and faster on our higher capacity project. (The higher GSLV MarkIII can lift up to four-tonne satellites, or double the GSLV capacity.) However we will be doing its first launch only in December.
Our need for going outside to get many of our communication satellites launched would not have been there. They would have happened right from here [saving several hundred crores of rupees in launch fees.]
What lessons have India and ISRO learnt?
We still have issues, such as the many critical materials [of a launch vehicle]. You have to make sure that nobody affects your programme and stops it.
A significant amount of R&D is going on to ensure that critical alloys and materials are taken up. If you take the PSLV we get 8 per cent of its critical materials from outside.
We are continuously identifying those items and raw materials and working towards them. We are putting in place specific programmes to overcome their requirement.
This is a continuous process.
What is on the cards next for this vehicle, GSLV MkII?
There is an increasing demand for the GSLV. We are looking at possible opportunities for it to provide commercial launches, just as the PSLV has done.
Yes, even for full launches. A few discussions are going on. We have to wait for the talks to firm up.
(Note: Nine GSLVs were test flown since April 2001; six of them used the Russian cryo engines, the last of them was in December 2010.)