More Stuff Going Up and Down: GSLV with Insat 3DR, and Soyuz TMA-20M lands

This was a busy week for spaceflight.  In addition to the ongoing SpaceX investigation and the OSIRIS-REx launch, there was also a launch from India and a landing in Kazakhastan.

First off, the successful return of Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeffrey Williams aboard Soyuz TMA-20M earlier this week:

You may remember them as the crew that had this awesome mission patch:
Soyuz-TMA-20M-Mission-Patch

And then from Sriharikota, India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, an all-domestic GSLV rocket blasted off, delivering the Insat 3DR weather satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The GSLV has had a difficult path, as various components are replaced or added or removed or changed and with an unfortunately high rate of failures.  So this launch was particularly important for ISRO, which seeks to become a viable international competitor in the commercial launch market.  Their rockets are cheaper even than Falcon 9, and GSLV’s increased performance over the highly reliable PSLV is critical in order to capture valuable geosynchronous business.  (GSLV actually stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.)  What’s more, ISRO will be depending on GLSV to place their next Chandrayaan moon probe into lunar transfer orbit — and that one will be their most ambitious deep space probe yet, featuring orbiter, lander, and rover in one mission.  But until then, check out the Insat 3DR launch.  Notice one unique feature: the core stage is solid, while the strap-ons are hypergolic, so the plume is inverted from what you’d expect on an Atlas or Long March launch.  It’s an intriguing hybrid of a rocket — solid core, hypergolic strap-on boosters, and a cryogenic upper stage.  And perhaps it is finally coming into its own.

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