A busy year ahead for ISRO

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM JAN. 1. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has a busy year ahead when it will cross some important milestones. The indigenous cryogenic stage is expected to be ready by the end of 2004 and the first launch from the new launch pad at Sriharikota will take place before the year is out.

After the Russians reneged on a contract to supply the technology to make the cryogenic engines and stage for the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), the ISRO set out to develop cryogenic technology on its own. The Cryogenic Upper Stage Project (CUSP) was started in April 1994.

Earlier this month, the indigenous main engine, along with two smaller engines used for steering, completed the final endurance test when they were successfully fired for over 16 minutes. In actual flight, the engines would need to operate for only 12 minutes. Tests of the cryogenic stage, which will incorporate these engines, will be carried out in the coming year and the first flight-worthy stage is expected be ready by the year-end. The indigenous cryogenic stage is to fly on the GSLV in 2005.

The second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, will be used to launch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in the second half of 2004, according to ISRO officials. For this pad, the GSLV and the PSLV will be integrated in a separate assembly building and then moved on a mobile platform to the pad a few days before the launch.

The second pad will be capable of handling more rocket launches than the first pad where the rockets are assembled on the launch site. The second pad will be capable of handling the PSLV and the GSLV as well as the more powerful GSLV Mark III which the ISRO plans to get ready by the end of the decade.

At least one GSLV and one PSLV are likely to be launched from Sriharikota this year.

The GSLV, equipped with a Russian cryogenic stage, is expected to launch the ISRO's EDUSAT communications satellite in the second quarter of 2004. The EDUSAT, carrying a number of high power transponders, will be devoted to distance education, covering primary school to college level and technical education.

The PSLV will carry the Cartosat-1 remote-sensing satellite into space in the latter half of 2004. The Cartosat-1 is equipped with twin stereoscopic cameras with a resolution of 2.5 metres, making it suitable for a variety of mapping needs. At present, 5.8 metres is the best resolution publicly available from the Indian remote-sensing satellites.

Although the Technology Experiment Satellite provides better than one-metre resolution images and is reported to be performing excellently, its data is currently available only to the security agencies. Cartosat-2, scheduled for launch in 2004-2005, will provide one-metre resolution images for civilian applications.

The first of the Insat-4 communication satellites, the Insat-4A, will be launched during 2004. Weighing over three tonnes, it will be the heaviest satellite built by the ISRO up to now.

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