By Karan Kochhar
In a short span of 5 months after the launch of a record-breaking 104 satellites, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has reached yet another significant milestone.
On 5th June, 2017, the space agency launched the GSLV-Mark III, dubbed as a ‘monster-rocket’, carrying a 3,136 Kg payload from the Satish Dhawan Space Station. With this, India has joined the ranks of established space agencies of USA, Russia, Japan, France and China in carrying payloads over four tonnes. The feat comes at a time when the international community is recognising ISRO as a strong player in the race towards space exploration.
Not a bed of roses
The core of the launch is the indigenously developed cryogenic engine which is imperative to put heavy payloads in geostationary orbits. However, the road to development of the technology was full of difficulties when the programme was started in 1991.
In a quest to acquire cryogenic rockets, ISRO had signed a deal with Glavkosmos, the Russian Space Agency. The move was thwarted by the US when it imposed sanctions on both parties, citing dangerous proliferation of missile technology. Eventually, ISRO acquired seven engines from the Russians but the implementation of the technology was complicated as there was no data indicating the performance of the engines. However, after a series of hits and trials, and failed tests, ISRO has managed to succeed at the end.
Riding high on confidence, ISRO has also secured backing from the Indian government to put a lander on Mars in 2021, in succession to the Mars orbiter it launched in 2014, and an orbiter to Venus shortly after it.
‘Modi Agenda’ behind the resurgent ISRO
In the greater scheme of things, the push towards space is not only fostered by a greater inclination towards developing a self-reliant organisation but also by a broader international and economic agenda. One of the key priorities of the Modi administration is to build a grandiose image of India to the outside world. ISRO’s standing in the international community forms a crucial part of this exercise.
It also plays a significant role in attracting foreign investments and joint cooperation initiatives with other space agencies. This was quite evident when France partnered with India to jointly develop a Mars lander and when NASA and ISRO decided to jointly undertake studies on electric propulsion system of the Venus orbiter.
Considering the state of affairs where ISRO has been dependent on foreign technology for carrying out missions, developing indigenous technology is crucial to Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. The development of GSLV-Mk III did away with the dependence on French companies like Arianne Space for launching heavyweight satellites. An Arianne 6 launch would come with a price tag of 95 million USD, whereas India achieved the goal at 65 million USD, removing considerable burden on the budget of the organisation.
Cherishing the cheaper space technology
While the success of complex projects such as Chandrayan in the first attempt is a laudable feat, doing it in a fraction of the high cost garnered higher praise than the applications of the mission itself. Chandrayan came at a 74 million USD price tag, while in the same week as its launch, NASA launched the Maven Mission at 671 million USD.
With its cheap labour and organisational efficiency, India is the preferred destination for frugal solutions in various sectors such as IT and manufacturing. With the launch of Mark III, we can now include space exploration initiatives to this market which has only a few players holding considerable ground.
ISRO and the change of ways
Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian space programs, said, “We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or other planets or manned space-flight, but we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”
While for past few decades, the nation has been following the path indicated by Vikram Sarabhai, the recent achievements of ISRO exhibit a different stance altogether. ISRO is quite keen on developing new technology to examine areas which it had previously deemed inconsequential to its research such as the study of life on Mars, much less examine planets distant from Mars. Apart from developing space technology for the benefit of mankind, ISRO is now actively competing with other space agencies to prove its mettle.
Nonetheless, the successful completion and testing of GSLV-Mark III has made India one amongst the six countries in the world to do so. The day is not far when we would witness ISRO’s human flight to space.
Featured image credits - Pixabay
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius