From the new SSLV to Chandrayaan-2, ISRO announces big plans for next 3 years

For the first time in history, ISRO said 2 launches will be planned every month from February 2019.

On a day when American space agency NASA launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft on a mission to get closer than any human-made object in history to the centre of our solar system, India celebrated the 99th birth anniversary of its space pioneer Vikram Sarabhai, and with it, the achievements of our own space endeavours.

Marking the event in its Bengaluru headquarters on Sunday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) also made several public announcements vis-à-vis the scheduled space programmes over the upcoming months. The space agency's former chairmen K Kasturirangan and AS Kiran Kumar, and incumbent chairman K Sivan were present on the occasion to mark Sarabhai's birth anniversary — a man who served as the first ISRO chairman from 1963 to 1971.

With the Indian space agency's primary objective of helping the country achieve social goals through technology firmly in place, the organisation is now in able hands to move forward to new goals, Kasturirangan said.

"Dr Sivan is taking it forward in the direction of not only strengthening the existing core programme of ISRO, which is related to the socio-economic development of the country, but also going further into areas where there is potential for international collaboration, through bilateral and multilateral engagement," Kasturirangan told tech2.

"The current efforts we have undertaken will take us to a regime where further expansion of the planetary programme could be taken beyond Mars and Moon."

Here are the most important takeaways from the event:

50 satellites to be launched in the next three years

To meet the growing demand for space applications in India and to cement its place at the global stage, ISRO plans to launch 50 satellites within the next three years. "We have identified 50 satellites that will be launched over the coming three years," Sivan announced on Sunday.

From the new SSLV to Chandrayaan-2, ISRO announces big plans for next 3 years

Representational image. Image courtesy: ISRO

Sivan added that two launches will be planned every month from February next year, which he said will be a record in ISRO's history. "The space agency has a tight schedule ahead, as we are targeting nine launches over the next five months and 22 missions from February to December in 2019, aiming at two per month," he said.

In all, ISRO is looking at 31 space missions in a span of 16 months — from September 2018 to December 2019. In perspective, ISRO attempted five launches in 2017, out of which four were successful. This year, the space agency has achieved three successful launches so far — in January, March and April.

Building the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle

In addition to the tens of launches scheduled, ISRO will also launch two demonstration flights of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) in mid-2019.

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, ISRO will also be conducting a test flight in May-June 2019 of its new rocket, the SSLV. At one-tenth the cost of a PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), and with a length of only 34 metres, the SSLV will be used to launch smaller satellites that weigh between 500 to 700 kilograms.

"It will be an on-demand launcher, requiring minimum infrastructure, and one that can be readied for launch within 72 hours, as opposed to a PSLV rocket which requires 45-60 days' preparation before the launch," Sivan said.

Once designed in 2019, the SSLV production will be taken over by the industry through ISRO's commercial arm Antrix, he added.

Chandrayaan-2 to be launched in January 2019

A decade after India placed an orbiter around the moon as part of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, ISRO announced that its second lunar mission —aptly named Chandrayaan-2 — will take off on 3 January 2019. The Rs 800-crore Chandrayaan-2, which has already witnessed multiple delays in its launch, is being designed to land on the moon and deploy a rover for conducting scientific experiments.

Read all about the ISRO's second moon mission here.

But before landing on the lunar surface, the 3,890-kg Chandrayaan-2 will orbit around the Moon and study its conditions to collect data on the Moon's topography, mineralogy and exosphere. A lander — which has been named "Vikram" as a tribute to Sarabhai — and a rover will separate from the spacecraft before gradually descending on the lunar surface at a designated spot, Sivan said.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

This is the first time that India will attempt a rover landing on the moon, nearly 50 years after American astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in 1969. For its Chandrayaan-1 mission, ISRO had carried a moon impact probe that was designed to crash into the lunar surface from orbit.

A new space television channel

Much like NASA TV (and perhaps more than NASA TV), India will soon launch a dedicated space and science television channel to make domestic scientific achievements reach people across the country. "Within the next three to four months, there will be a television channel launched to reach even the rural parts of India, which will broadcast shows on how the space programme can benefit the common man," Sivan said on Sunday.

To be named ISRO TV, the channel will telecast science programmes and highlight the benefits of the space agency's missions in regional languages, as well as in English, in order to increase its reach. "The information on India's space missions and their applications are not reaching the people fully. Our effort through the channel is to make people aware of the benefits of the space programme," Sivan added.

ISRO will also be setting up a module for students from Classes 8-10 to be trained at the space agency for a month.

Continuing the partnership with Arianespace

Global commercial launch provider Arianespace will launch three more heavy Indian satellites from its rocket port at Kourou in French Guiana over the next 9 months, ISRO said.

"Arianespace will launch GSAT-11 on 30 November, followed by GSAT-31 in December and GSAT-30 in May 2019," Sivan told reporters in Bengaluru. "GSAT-11 will be sent to Kourou in mid-October for launch onboard Arian-5 rocket of Arianespace."

In June, ISRO had cleared the launch of GSAT-11, which was later recalled from Kourou for more thorough checks after they lost contact with another satellite that was launched from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in March this year.

"Unless we launch the two satellites (GSAT-31 & GSAT-30) before the lifespans of the earlier satellites end, we will have no telecast link and direct-to-home (DTH) services in the country," Sivan pointed out.

ISRO's GSLV-Mark III rocket lifts off during a test flight. PTI

ISRO's GSLV-Mark III rocket lifts off during a test flight. PTI

GSAT-32 to replace the now silent GSAT-6A

ISRO announced the launch of the GSAT-32 satellite in October 2019 to replace GSAT-6A, which stopped communicating a few days after its launch on 29 March.

"We have not been able to establish a link with the GSAT-6A satellite so far. Even as we continue to monitor the satellite, as days are progressing, our chances of reviving it are decreasing," Sivan said.

The 2,000-kg GSAT-6A satellite was meant to complement the GSAT-6, launched in 2015, and help in providing technologies for point-to-point communications for the military.

The satellite could not be placed in its intended orbit 36,000 kilometres above the surface after it stopped responding to the manoeuvre from the space agency's Master Control Facility at Karnataka's Hassan. ISRO, however, is still striving to monitor the satellite and re-establish a link with it, Sivan said.

If the satellite does not respond by 2019, it will be declared "dead", he added.

With inputs from agencies

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