Tag Archives: ISRO

ISRO begins ground tests of its first lunar lander

The competition heats up: ISRO, India’s space agency, has begun testing the sensors its first lunar lander, Chandrayaan-2, will use to descend safely to the surface.

ISRO Satellite Centre or ISAC, which is the lead centre for the country’s second moon mission, has artificially created eight to ten craters to make the terrain resemble the lunar surface. This terrain is now the test bed for the lunar Lander’s sensors. Between Friday and Monday, a small ISRO-owned aircraft carrying equipment with the sensors flew a few times over these craters to see how well they performed.

PSLV places multiple satellites into different orbits

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO has successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch eight satellites into two different orbits.

After the successful separation of SCATSAT-1, the PSLV-C35 mission continued. Still carrying the seven co-passenger satellites, the fourth stage of PSLV coasted over the South polar region and then started ascending towards the Northern hemisphere. A safe distance between the orbiting SCATSAT-1 and PSLV-C35 fourth stage was maintained by suitably manoeuvring the stage.

At 1 hour 22 minutes and 38 seconds after lift-off as the fourth stage was in the North polar region, the two engines of PSLV fourth stage were reignited and fired for 20 seconds. As a result of this, it entered into an elliptical orbit measuring 725 km on one side of the Earth and 670 km on the other. And 50 minutes later, as the PSLV fourth stage was again coasting near the south pole, its engines were fired for another 20 seconds. This second firing made the fourth stage to enter into a circular orbit of 669 km height inclined at an angle of 98.2 degree to the equator. 37 seconds later, the Dual Launch Adapter was successfully separated from the PSLV-C35 fourth stage. 30 seconds after this event, ALSAT-1N was the first co-passenger satellite to be separated successfully. Following this, the NLS-19, PRATHAM, PISAT, ALSAT-1B, ALSAT-2B, and Pathfinder-1 were separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence thereby successfully completing PSLV-C35 mission.

This launch was also the 36th successful PSLV launch in a row.

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.

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.

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.

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’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.

India’s space agency calls for more hiring

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO says it is facing a manpower shortage caused by its recent successes and increased demand for more space achievements.

ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) director M Annadurai – who is also considered one of the heroes of the India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon (October 2008-August 2009) and the November 2013-launched MOM – has said after a steep increase in ISRO’s workforce expansion between 1982 and 1992 there has been no significant growth in ISRO’s workforce, which has remained in the region of 16,500 over several years. “There is a crunch,” he admitted on the sidelines of the Aerospace & Defence Manufacturing Summit 2015, although adding that it was relative in nature. “The requirements have increased but the workforce has remained more or less the same.”

Annadurai said the requirements were from domestic as well as foreign origin. The ISRO on July 11 launched five British satellites in a single launch, which is considered a record as it was the Indian space agency’s heaviest commercial launch. On the domestic front, he said, there are plans to increase Indian satellite launches from the current four a year to ten in the near future – which requires manpower to meet the quality requirements.

Without doubt India’s recent successes demand a growth in its space industry. The danger here is that India will add jobs to its government space agency rather than hire private companies to do the work and let them do the hiring. If they do the latter, the companies will have flexibility and will be able to adjust quickly to changing conditions. If the former the government will instead be hiring employees who will be seen by politicians as a vested interest they must protect, whether or not it makes sense economically. The first option will allow the aerospace industry to grow naturally. The second will fossilize that industry around pork supporting inefficient political agendas.

Hopefully the new conservative Modi government in India will recognize the dangers of expanding its government agency and will go the private route. This quote from the article gives me hope:

“We need the same number of people (16,500) outside to support operations, which is why we are encouraging private partnerships,” he said. Senior ISRO scientists have also said they have been encouraging retiring space scientists to foster links with private firms to encourage them to work with ISRO in the future. This is with an aim to bring in an “outside manpower” to bolster the in-house activities by ISRO scientists.

India has successful rocket engine test

The competition heats up: India has successfully completed a full duration test of its upgraded cryogenic rocket engine.

This gets them much closer to not only having the ability to launch all of their own geosynchronous satellites, it gets them closer to building a rocket capable of putting human capsules into orbit.

India extends Mangalyaan’s mission by six months

Western slopes of Arsia Mons

Having successfully completed its nominal six month mission and continuing to operate perfectly, ISRO has extended the mission of India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter for another six months.

Take a gander at the images the orbiter has been sending down. Quite impressive. The cropped image on the right shows the western slopes of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, with white water vapor hovering above those slopes. (Click on the image for the full resolution version.) The water vapor is significant because scientists believe that this region once had many glaciers, and that much of that water is still present and trapped below the surface as ice, possibly in many of the caves that are there. The vapor’s presence, a routine occurance here, strengthens this theory.

India’s space budget remains stable

India this year has budgeted $1.2 billion for ISRO, the government agency that runs its space program.

The most astonishing thing I learned from this article however was this tidbit:

The total, presented to the parliament Feb. 28, is roughly level with the 2014-15 budget presented last year. However, ISRO typically spends significantly less money than is allocated in any given budget year — for 2014-15 it spent just 58 billion rupees of the 72 billion rupee allocation — so it seems likely that spending in the coming year will fall short of 73.9 billion rupees. ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik acknowledged the possibility that ISRO’s budget will be reduced before the end of the year. [emphasis mine]

Who ever heard of any government agency in the United States routinely spending less than its budget. The idea is unheard of!

India announces scheduled to test a prototype space plane

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO has announced that they will test fly a prototype space plane sometime between April and June this year.

The test and prototype both sound very similar to Europe’s IXV prototype space plane, test flown only a few weeks ago.

“Technology Demonstrator winged body vehicle weighing 1.5T will be lofted to a height of 70 km using solid booster, thus attaining five times the speed of sound. Thereafter, it will descend by gliding and splashing down into the sea”, said an official statement. This test flight would demonstrate the Hypersonic aerodynamics characteristics, Avionics system, Thermal protection system, Control system and Mission management.

Both programs also remind me of many similar NASA engineering test programs, most of which ended up as dead ends, with the new technology never applied to actual real world missions. Whether that happens in Europe and India remains the main question. The increasing competition in space should help prevent it, but these are also government-run programs, so their goal has less to do with profit and competition than pork and political maneuvering.

Success for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

The competition heats up: On Wednesday morning India’s Mars orbiter Mangalyaan successfully fired its engines and attained Mars orbit.

More here.

There are probably three dozen stories in the India press today extolling this success. And there should be. As described in detail in the second link above, India did this mission smart, simple, and fast, showing everyone else that a science mission doesn’t have to take a decade and a billion dollars to be get built.

I expect that this success will quickly lead to the Indian manned flight tests their space agency ISRO has been advocating for the past few years.

India inks space deal with China

The competition heats up: India has signed a cooperative agreement with China to work together on several space projects.

Asked about the areas of focus, [Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan] said: “Right now, broadly speaking, it will be natural disasters and remote sensing, which are natural choices. But by March-April 2015, the joint working team would have prepared a roadmap, chalking out various options and opportunities for concentrated efforts in space exploration.”

This article is among a lot of articles from India this week about space and the upcoming orbital insertion of their Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan. As I’ve said repeatedly, this emerging prosperous and capitalist nation is space happy!

Also, when you click on the link make sure you scroll down to read the secondary sidebar piece at the bottom titled “After Mars, Kathakali beckons Isro chief.” There they describe the other culture interests of the head of India’s space agency, and how he plans to spend his time after he steps down in December. It will give you a flavor of India’s culture and how it differs from ours, even as it strives to emulate us.

The head of India’s research team at its Antarctica base has been recalled after he ordered the shut down of power at the station.

Welcome to the movies: The head of India’s research team at its Antarctica base has been recalled after he ordered the shut down of power at the station.

From October 7 to 12, ISRO’s satellite ground station at Antarctica, lost all transmission when its power supply was allegedly shut down by the team leader of the 32nd winter expedition to Bharati. The scientist, whose name was not revealed, has since been suspended and brought back to Goa. On October 14, NCAOR had also filed a police complaint against the scientist for the ‘wanton act of shutting down power’, said a statement released by the Ministry of Earth Sciences on Saturday.

This story had this tidbit:

It is believed the probe was ordered after the team leader allegedly ordered for the station’s power supply, which is obtained from diesel generators, to be cut off. A former chairman of ISRO, on the condition of anonymity, said: “If shortage of fuel was the issue, why would the ISRO station not take stock of fuel two months before it was to get exhausted and make arrangements for additional supply from South Africa? It is the most obvious thing to do. Unless there is some confusion or some issues, such a thing in Antarctica is unheard of. If power is switched off, people inside will freeze. So why was the power ordered to be cut off and why wait for diesel to get over?”

It also appears that three people are involved in this story, though details remain scant.

In preparation for November 5 launch of India’s first mission to Mars, ISRO successfully performed a full dress rehearsal countdown yesterday

In preparation for November 5 launch of India’s first mission to Mars, ISRO successfully performed a full dress rehearsal countdown yesterday.

We all cross our fingers and wish India well on this mission.

The article also had this additional tidbit that reveals a great deal about world culture:
» Read more

A fundamental design failure appears to be the cause of the fuel leak that caused the launch postponement of India’s first home-made geosynchronous powered rocket in August.

The complete failure of the fuel tank appears to be the cause of the massive leak that caused the launch postponement of India’s first home-made geosynchronous powered rocket in August.

Mr. Radhakrishnan [head of India’s space agency] said while the expert committee had attributed the fuel leak to stress corrosion cracking of the tank filled with propellants, exactly why this happened was “a research problem” that remains to be investigated. The next GSLV mission will switch to a better aluminium alloy material for its propellant tanks.

Up to now the reports have been somewhat vague about the cause of what was clearly an extensive leak. This story tells us that the tank essentially failed. As they filled it with propellants, cracks apparently showed up everywhere, with fuel spewing out in all directions. As far as I can remember, I don’t think there has ever been a rocket tank failure quite this spectacular.

This suggests there were fundamental design flaws in the tank or very serious quality control problems in its manufacture. With the next launch attempt scheduled for December 15, I hope India has identified the source of this incredibly basic problem and taken action to prevent it from happening again.

Update: Reader Patrick Ritchie found this older article which suggests the failed tank was an old tank of a design that was “prone for delayed cracks”. The error here then was in using this substandard old equipment rather than a newer tank.

India has now rescheduled the launch of its home-built GSLV rocket for December 15.

India has now rescheduled the launch of its home-built GSLV rocket for December 15.

The launch of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which was deferred on August 19 following a flaw in the rocket, will take place on December 15, ISRO head said here today. “The launch of GSLV D5 satellite which was postponed on August 19 about two hours before liftoff after detection of a fuel leak in the rockets’ second stage will now be held on December 15,” ISRO chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan said at an interactive session with students and teachers here.

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