Tag Archives: India

India’s GSLV rocket successfully launches again

The competition heats up: India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) successfully placed a commercial communications satellite in orbit today.

This is the third successful GSLV launch in a row, indicating that India’s space agency ISRO has finally worked out the kinks of their home-built upper stage and are ready to begin regular and more frequent commercial launches, in direct competition with the world’s big players in the launch industry.

India tests scramjet successfully

The competition heats up: Using a newly developed suborbital sounding rocket, India today successfully tested its first scramjet engines.

The scramjet engine, used only during the atmospheric phase of the rocket’s flight, will help in bringing down the launch cost by reducing the amount of oxidiser to be carried, along with the fuel. Later, the ISRO in a statement said: “With this flight, critical technologies such as ignition of air-breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems have been successfully demonstrated.” The scramjet engine designed by ISRO uses hydrogen as fuel and the oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidiser.

The real question is whether India can do something that NASA has never been able to do, go beyond tests and get a scramjet engine installed in a rocket and put it to use. NASA’s history is filled with many similar test programs, each hailed as great achievements that will someday revolutionize the launch industry, and then forgotten and shelved.

TMT will probably not go to India

An Indian astronomer, in testimony to India’s parliament, has explained that for engineering and technical reasons India will likely not be the new location of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

Essentially, the skies are clearer in the Canary Islands and in Chile.

This story is important in that it confirms that the consortium building TMT is now very seriously considering abandoning Hawaii, and might already have decided to do so. It also suggests that the Canary Islands is in the lead as the new location, since they want a site that can see the skies of the northern hemisphere, something that won’t be possible in Chile.

India faces $1 billion in damages for space contract cancellation

An arbitration court at the Hague yesterday ruled that India faces $1 billion in damages because of its unilateral cancellation in 2011 of a satellite deal between itself and a private company.

More info here. Essentially the ruling says that India had made a legal commitment when it signed the contract, and by unilaterally cancelled it they did harm to the private company’s shareholders.

This case illustrates that, despite India’s successes in space, it is still running a government space program, with all the flaws that come with it. Paying off these damages will likely put a serious crimp in the country’s space effort in the next few years.

The Indian government considers privatization

The competition heats up: The Indian space agency, ISRO, is discussing with private companies ways in which it might privatize its smaller and successful rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

In order to step up the launch capacity within the country, ISRO is in the process of exploring the possibility of involving Indian industry in a greater role to meet the increased national requirements and possible commercial demand for launch services. Discussions are being held with the Indian industry towards formulating a plan and strategy to enhance the capacity as well as capability of managing the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) programme on an end to end basis.

The sense I get from this ISRO announcement is that the government is taking the lead, trying to drag the private companies forward to take over. I also sense that both the private companies as well as ISRO are at the moment are somewhat uninterested in doing it. Neither impression is stated anywhere in this announcement and are merely my personal impressions, based literally on no inside information, which of course means I could be very wrong.

India’s government proposes ending satellite competition

The competition cools down? A regulatory agency in India is proposing eliminating commercial satellite competition and consolidating all satellite television broadcasts onto a handful of government owned and launched satellites.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign seeks to promote India’s domestic industrial base. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on May 23 published what it calls a “pre-consultation paper” that points to the savings satellite-television broadcasters could realize if they stopped beaming the same programs on different satellites, and instead banded together on one or two spacecraft.

As of March 2015, the latest period for which TRAI has produced figures, there were 76 million DTH subscribers in India, of which 41.1 million were considered active. These subscribers received programming from six pay TV DTH providers and one free-to-air satellite broadcast service. TRAI said multiple DTH providers are broadcasting the same channels even as they compete with each other for subscribers. “There is scope for better utilization of available infrastructure,” TRAI said. “There is a need to examine technical and commercial issues in sharing of infrastructure such as satellite transponders, Earth station facilities….”

There is also this important component to the story:

India has been one of the biggest satellite-DTH growth markets in recent years, but one in which barriers to entry by foreigners remain high. Under Indian law, television broadcasters seeking operating licenses are given preferential treatment if they use India’s own Insat telecommunications satellites, owned and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Non-Indian satellites are permitted if ISRO’s Insat system does not have sufficient capacity to meet programmers’ demand. This has been the case for years as ISRO has been unable to keep up with the market for satellite television.

In other words, the commercial satellite business in India is doing great, so let’s muck it up by having one government agency create a monopoly for another government agency.

The United States tried this in the 1960s when it banned private companies from launching commercial communications satellites and instead required all such satellites to be built by the government-managed Comsat corporation. The result in the U.S. was a squelched satellite and launch industry that did not recover for more than a decade, and only did so when the Nixon administration forced a change in the rules.

TMT calls for removal of official supervising permit process

The University of Hawaii has filed a motion to have the hearing officer in charge of the new permitting process for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) removed.

What the lawyers for TMT appear to be doing is trying to prevent further delaying tactics by those opposing the telescope. Their motion describes these delaying tactics, which involve questioning the objectivity of various officials involved, but doing it piecemeal in order to slow the permitting process down as much as possible. The officer in question has membership in an astronomy center, and though the anti-TMT forces have not yet questioned this, TMT lawyers want to act now to remove that possibility later.

Once again, I think TMT officials are spinning their wheels. Hawaii will never give them permission to build TMT. Read the ten-point plan of Hawaii’s governor for protecting Mauna Kea and you will agree. They should move the telescope to a more friendly location as soon as possible.

India test flies its first spaceplane prototype

The competition heats up: India this morning successfully completed a test flight of its first spaceplane engineering prototype.

After a 90sec burn, the booster delivered the RLV-TD to the proper altitude before separating from the prototype and destructively fall back to Earth in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, the RLV-TD continued on, falling back into Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic velocity. During this hypersonic test, the RLV-TD pitched its nose up relative to the horizon and direction of travel – just as the Space Shuttles did during atmospheric entry. This allowed engineers to gather valuable in-flight data surrounding the performance of the vehicle’s thermal protection system (600 heat-resistant tiles and a carbon-carbon nose), its aerodynamic characteristics during hypersonic flight, and inform the overall design of the eventual full-scale RLV.

The prototype was designed to test the flight characteristics of the spaceplane, not its landing capabilities. If all went as planned, it would have glided horizontally into the ocean, as if it was landing on a runway, but then sink.

Another successful launch for India

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched its seventh home-built GPS satellite, completing their GPS constellation.

The seven first-generation satellites have been launched over a three-year period, starting with the deployment of IRNSS-1A in July 2013. ISRO has launched all of the satellites itself using the PSLV rocket. The flight number for Thursday’s launch was PSLV C33, which saw the vehicle fly in its most powerful configuration, the PSLV-XL. This version of the PSLV was introduced in October 2008 with the launch of the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe, and features more powerful solid rocket boosters than the standard PSLV, increasing the amount of payload it can carry into orbit.

Meanwhile, they are gearing up for the first test flight of the engineering prototype of their reusuable spaceplane.

Pakistan pulls out of India satellite project

This op-ed provides a revealing outline of how the political tensions in Islamic Pakistan have damaged efforts by India to work together on a satellite project.

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced India’s decision to develop (and gift) a satellite to benefit all SAARC member countries [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] in different fields like weather data exchanges, disaster management, telecommunication and tele-medicine. The work on this satellite has already begun at the Indian Space research Organisation (ISRO), and the satellite is expected to be launched by the end of 2016. After remaining indecisive about this project for long, Pakistan has finally decided to opt out of the SAARC satellite project. Now, India would launch this satellite not as a satellite for SAARC, but as a South Asia satellite.

Pakistan’s decision may not be totally surprising given the current chill in the India-Pakistan relationship. The initial discussions on this project were progressing in a constructive fashion with Pakistan. However, Pakistan subsequently made a technical and financial help offer to India for the construction of the satellite. This was not accepted by India, which could be one of the main reasons for Pakistan opting out of this project. Obviously, Pakistan has missed an opportunity to develop ‘orbital cooperation’ with India in spite of having ‘terrestrial confrontation’.

The article, describing other cooperative efforts by India, including working with Russia and China to link the GPS systems of the three countries. once again indicates to me that India as a country is successfully becoming a first world nation.

India to test reusable mini-shuttle in May

The competition heats up: ISRO, India’s space agency, this week announced plans to conduct its first test flight of its half-scale prototype reusable launch vehicle in May.

The RLV, is a scaled-down prototype (some 21.3 feet in length or 6.5 meters) of a future uncrewed single-stage reusable spaceplane, known as Avatar, that is being designed by the ISRO. The May mission will be a technology demonstrator (RLV-TD) to test powered cruise flight, autonomous landing and hypersonic flight using an air-breathing propulsion system. The spacecraft, which resembles a small winged aircraft, will be launched from the first launchpad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre to an altitude of 43 miles (70 km) atop a two-stage Rohini sounding rocket and then released. It will re-enter the atmosphere and travel back to Earth in a controlled descent, to be recovered from the Bay of Bengal. [emphasis mine]

This vehicle is kind of Inida’s version of the Air Force’s X-37B, except that it is also testing a hypersonic scramjet engine, a cutting edge design that the U.S. has barely been able to fly successfully. Should they succeed, it will place them smack dab in the middle of the elite club of space-faring nations.

India signs deal for its own LIGO

India today signed an agreement with the National Science Foundation to build its own LIGO gravitational wave detector

This deal, combined with the possibility that TMT might move to India as well, suggests that India is about to move aggressively from the Third World to the First. And the reason, after decades of wallowing in poverty and failure, is that they finally abandoned in the late 1990s the Soviet models of socialism and communism and embraced private enterprise and capitalism, ideas championed by the United States.

If only some modern Americans would do the same.

Federal law outlaws launches on foreign rockets

Killing competition: The American launch industry as well as the FAA regulators are in agreement that a 2005 law that limits American small satellite companies from using foreign launch companies should remain in place.

The CSLA, dating from 2005, is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the seemingly forever-nascent U.S. small-satellite launch industry from competing with government-controlled foreign launchers for U.S. business. It seeks to oblige non-U.S. rocket providers to sign a CSLA that, for all intents and purposes, sets U.S. commercial launch prices as the world minimum for government-owned non-U.S. launch providers.

The rationale is that these non-U.S. launchers, not bound by the constraints of profit and loss – but hungry for hard-currency export earnings – will undercut commercial U.S. companies’ launch prices and keep them from gaining market traction.

India’s launch rockets, for example, are designed and built by India’s space agency ISRO, and are backed not by private funds but by government money. The fear is that India could subsidize its rockets so that the price could always be kept below what any American company could charge.

The truth, however, is that competition and innovation, here in the U.S., has so successful undercut foreign prices that no amount of subsidies can hope to compete. Those foreign companies are now scrambling to actually redesign their rockets to lower their costs and thus their prices, rather than asking for more handouts from their governments. This law should be repealed.

TMT consortium considers India for telescope

India is now a second candidate location to replace Hawaii for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Hanle in Ladakh has been short-listed as a prospective site by the TMT board following major hurdles in Mauna Kea, Hawaii – the first choice for the project. An international team is expected to visit Ladakh in a couple of months. … India is already building edge sensors, actuators and system support support assemblies, besides contributing to the software of TMT. India is expected to invest $212 million in the project.

Not only is India contributing technology and money to the telescope, institutes in the country are also participating in the consortium.

Two major scientific institutions – the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) Bengaluru and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune – along with two government departments having working on the project since 2013. The department of science and technology (DST) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are the government partners, while IIA is the nodal agency.

I think the odds continue to increase that TMT will abandon Hawaii, especially since the state government there continues to drag its feet.

India launches sixth GPS satellite

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched the sixth satellite in its own GPS constellation. using its PSLV rocket.

They will complete the GPS constellation with a seventh satellite launch in April. The system however is already functioning, as it only needs a minimum of four satellites to work. Unlike the U.S. 24 satellite system, which is designed to be global, India’s system is regional with its focus centered over India itself. This is why they do not need as many satellites for it to function effectively.

India’s space agency ISRO gets a budget boost

In its new budget approved by India’s government the country’s space agency ISRO was the only science agency to get a significant budget increase, approximately 7.3%.

In the short run this is good, as ISRO has been using its funds wisely and accomplishing a lot for a little, while trying to encourage private development in India’s aerospace industry. In the long run, however, this will not be good, as government agencies always grow more than they should while sucking the innovation and creativity from the private sector. This is what NASA did in the U.S.

Hopefully, India will see how things are changing in America with private enterprise reasserting itself after a half century of government stagnation in space development and copy what we are doing.

Successful test of India’s GSLV rocket engine

The competition heats up: India has successfully completed a full duration static hot fire test of the cryogenic engine it is developing for its more powerful GSLV rocket.

The press release is very short and lacking in many details, including any detailed information about the engine being tested. However, this success bodes well for India’s plans to launch a new upgraded GSLV before the end of the year.

India okays its own LIGO detector

The Indian government today approved construction of LIGO-India, using some duplicate components already available from the American LIGO gravitational wave detector.

“We have built an exact copy of that instrument that can be used in the LIGO-India Observatory,” says David Shoemaker, leader of the Advanced LIGO Project and director of the MIT LIGO Lab, “ensuring that the new detector can both quickly come up to speed and match the U.S. detector performance.” LIGO will provide Indian researchers with the components and training to build and run the new Advanced LIGO detector, which will then be operated by the Indian team.

What this new instrument will accomplish is to give astronomers more information when a gravitational wave rolls past the Earth. By having detectors half a world apart, they will be able to better triangulate the direction the wave came from, which in turn will help astronomers eventually pinpoint its source event.

Tests confirm meteorite at India impact site

The uncertainty of science: Even as NASA officials poo-poo the suspected meteorite impact in India that killed a bus driver, India scientists have done a chemical analysis of one of the rocks found near the site and found it to be a meteorite fragment.

According to a preliminary report by National College Instrumentation Facility (NCIF) in Trichy, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) study on samples retrieved from the campus in Vellore where the blast occurred shows the “presence of carbonaceous chondrites”.

“Carbonaceous denotes objects containing carbon or its compounds and chondrites refer to non-metallic meteorite parts containing mineral granules,” K Anbarasu, a geologist who is also principal of the Trichy-based National College, told The Indian Express.

There remains uncertainty because the fragments tested did not actually come from the impact crater itself.

Anbarasu said the preliminary SEM study was conducted on “small pieces of black material” found near the blast site. “The crater formed at the spot had been already disturbed by other investigators. So we inspected the entire campus as any meteor incident would scatter several objects across the area before landing. Finally, we spotted several small pieces of this black material, one the size of a paperweight, on the terrace of a building nearby,” Anbarasu said.

Nonetheless, I think it unprofessional and inappropriate for a NASA official to comment on this event half a globe away. There is no way that they can really determine anything from the available photos taken of the impact site, and thus they should shut up.

India and UAE to ink Mars project deal

The competition heats up: India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plan to sign two deals today, one of which will lead to the first Arab Mars mission.

It appears that India will help UAE build its first mission to Mars, using the technology they developed for Mangalyaan. In exchange, the second deal will bring up to $75 billion of UAE investment capital into India.

The first recorded human death from a meteorite?

Officials in India are reporting what could be the first recorded death of a human by meteorite impact.

According to local reports, a bus driver was killed on Saturday when a meteorite landed in the area where he was walking, damaging the window panes of nearby buses and buildings. Three other people were injured.

The story is not yet confirmed, and could easily be proven wrong.

India’s first launch of 2016

The competition heats up: India today successfully completed its first launch in 2016, placing in orbit the fifth of what will be a seven satellite constellation of home-built navigational satellites.

It was India’s 50th orbital launch, and another success for their smaller PSLV rocket. The article is especially worth reading as it includes a nice history of the country’s rocket program.

First test flight of India’s prototype space shuttle delayed

Because of a discovered leak, India’s space agency ISRO has delayed the first flight of an engineering test prototype of a reusable space shuttle.

Sources said on Sunday that the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), under development at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) here at Thumba, developed a minor leak during a test, forcing the ISRO to postpone the mission. The ambitious RLV-TD, the first small step to building a ‘space shuttle’ which can return to earth after accomplishing space missions, is likely to be delayed up to April 2016. ISRO had originally planned a mid-2015 launch for the RLV-TD. It had later been postponed to January 2016.

VSSC Director Dr K Sivan said that some of the components had to be re-assembled. ‘’If things go as planned, we can launch the mission in the first week of February. Otherwise, the test will be conducted in the first week of April,’’ he said.

India wins contract to launch private weather satellites

The competition heats up: The first two satellites in the first private weather satellite constellation will be launched on India’s PSLV rocket.

With 12 satellites on orbit, PlanetiQ will collect approximately 34,000 “occultations” per day, evenly distributed around the globe with high-density sampling over both land and water. Each occultation is a vertical profile of atmospheric data with very high vertical resolution, comprised of measurements less than every 200 meters from the Earth’s surface up into the ionosphere. The data is similar to that collected by weather balloons, but more accurate, more frequent and on a global scale.

“The world today lacks sufficient data to feed into weather models, especially the detailed vertical data that is critical to storm prediction. That’s why we see inaccurate or ambiguous forecasts for storms like Hurricane Joaquin, which can put numerous lives at risk and cost businesses millions of dollars due to inadequate preparation or risk management measures,” McCormick said. “Capturing the detailed vertical structure of the atmosphere from pole to pole, especially over the currently under-sampled oceans, is the missing link to improving forecasts of high-impact weather.”

This project is a win-win for aerospace. Not only will this weather constellation help shift ownership of weather satellites from government to private ownership, the company’s decision to use India’s PSLV rocket increases the competition in the launch industry.

Getting India’s first space telescope working

A moment of terror: During the first week of successful operation, there was an initial moment of terror when the engineers checking out Astrosat, India’s first space telescope, thought the spacecraft was unable to point at its target accurately.

During the first orbit, there was a difficulty in detecting this Crab Nebula as the satellite happened to pass through the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) region when Crab was in the field of view. SAA avoidance zone was deliberately kept wide to protect the instruments, and detectors were switched OFF in this interval during the initial days of Astrosat operation. When all the data were systematically analysed and data were selected based on the availability of Crab in the detector field of view, one could see the Crab emerging from Earth’s shadow (Fig 3).

Using the Crab Nebula as Astrosat’s first target, the check-out has been proceeding well, with full research operations expected to begin in the next few weeks.

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