Tag Archives: Satish Dhawan Space Centre

More rockets: the 40th PSLV, and a Soyuz from Plesetsk

First off, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle has completed its fortieth launch.  It placed Cartosat 2E (an Earth observation spacecraft), NIUSAT (a student-designed agricultural mapping satellite), and 29 nanosatellites successfully into Earth orbit.  One extra twist for this mission was a new function of the upper stage: it was restarted three times during the flight, demostrating the ability to place payloads into a variety of orbits.  With the explosion of interest in smallsats, such a capability will have enormous competitive value.  Underlining the competitive nature of this market, many of the smallsats flown on this mission were originally scheduled to fly on other rockets: some were meant to fly on a Falcon 9 that was delayed due to last year’s mishap and consequent flight reshuffling, and others were originally slated for the Dnepr rocket, which is now in limbo thanks to deteriorating relations between its Russian and Ukrainian partners.  It speaks to the fact that the current market prizes flexibility and rapid flight availability, and India has been deliberately and shrewdly positioning themselves to capture this sort of business.  The spaceflight game is changing.

Meanwhile, much farther north, Russia launched a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  The payload is classified, and so is almost certainly a spy satellite.  The high-latitude launch complex is primarily of interest for spacecraft going into mapping orbits.  Outside observers speculate that the payload (designated Kosmos 2519) is the first of the 14F150 Napryazhenie satellite series, which are believed to be geodetic mapping satellites designed to carefully map the Earth’s gravitational field.  From a military perspective, the primary value would be in more precise targeting of ballistic missiles, which are at the mercy of tiny fluctuations in the gravitational field as they coast to their targets, although it’s possible it could be used for other sorts of intelligence.  The NASA-operated GRACE spacecraft have been used to measure the drawdown of aquifers, for instance, so there are probably other applications one can come up with which have a more specific military or reconnaissance function.

This was a very different looking Soyuz rocket, flying as a naked core stage, lacking the conical strap-on boosters that give the vehicle its distinctive appearance.  And it had another interesting detail: the engines were NK-33s, surplus from the N-1 mega-rocket program in the 1960s and 1970s.  NK-33 has a somewhat mixed track record; although the manufacturer denied fault, the engines were implicated in the loss of an Orbital Science Antares rocket and its Cygnus payload “Deke Slayton” from Wallops Island in Virginia a few years ago.  But it performed fine for this mission.

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GSLV Mk 3 has flown!

India has upgraded their GSLV rocket, and made a fully successful maiden flight of the new model, delivering GSAT 19, a geosynchronous commsat.  The GSLV family has had issues, but hopefully they are now resolved.  This new version is also considerably more powerful, putting it into contention with all the major geosynchronous launch providers on the commercial market.  This also gives them, for the first time, the performance necessary for a crewed launch, although ISRO does not yet have any announced plans to pursue human spaceflight.

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PSLV launches GSAT-9

I can’t believe I missed this when it happened!  India launched another Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, placing the GSAT-9 commsat into orbit.  They’re offering GSAT-9, aka the South Asia Satellite, for the use of all nations in South Asia.  This has had a somewhat mixed reception, with Pakistan seeming particularly unimpressed, but Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives are all signed on to make use of the vehicle.

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India’s PSLV breaks a record!!!

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has become quite the commercial workhorse in the last few years, just obliterated the record for most satellites placed into orbit with a single launch, placing an incredible 104 satellites into orbit.  The primary payload was Cartosat 2D, a large environmental mapping satellite.  After it was released, two Indian nanosatellites were ejected to test out new sensors.  And then came the real marathon — 101 satellites being deployed from 25 Dutch-built “QuadPack” launchers, while the PSLV’s upper stage maintained a very precise and stable orientation as the remaining satellites were ejected two at a time.  If that’s not amazing enough, here’s another tidbit for you: the QuadPacks were only added to the launch manifest in the past six months!  They’re built by a company called Innovative Solutions in Space, which aims to reduce the time and other barriers to getting a payload into orbit by arranging “rideshare” deals on other spacecraft.  This was most definitely the biggest rideshare they’ve arranged so far.  Among the 101 were eight Lemur weather nanosats from Spire Global of San Francisco, BGUSat from Ben Gurion University and Israel Aerospace Industries, the experimental Piezo Electric Assisted Smart Satellite Structure (PEASS) from the Netherlands, DIDO from SpacePharma in Switzerland, Al-Farabi 1 from students in Kazakhstan, Nayif 1 from students in the United Arab Emirates, and a whopping 88 Dove satellites for Planet, a San Fransisco satellite imaging company that has been arranging various “flocks” of its Dove satellites.  This is by far the largest flock yet.

So, what does a launch of 104 satellites look like?  Well, disappointingly, from the ground it looks like any other, since all the interesting stuff happens after its above the atmosphere.  But that still means it looks pretty cool.  😉

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India’s PSLV completes its most technically challenging mission to date

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, a remarkably reliable rocket, has just completed its most technically challenging launch to date, placing ScatSat 1 (an Indian weather satellite), Pathfinder 1 (a prototype commercial imaging satellite from American company BlackSky), AlSat 1B and AlSat 2B (a pair of Algerian Earth imaging satellites), an Algerian CubeSat, a Canadian CubeSat called CanX-7, and a pair of Indian student-built satellites called PRATHAM and PISAT.  The complex deployment pattern required the PSLV’s fourth stage to relight twice, a first for the vehicle and a major step in positioning it to continue competing in the international launch market.  This capability is critical for multi-payload deployments, an increasingly popular method of getting one’s payload into orbit more cheaply, especially as small satellites become far more capable.

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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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India’s new spaceplane makes a successful test flight

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is pretty serious about building a credible space program.  After already positioning themselves favorably in the competitive international launch business, they’ve already accomplished the remarkable feat of placing a spacecraft in orbit around another planet — one of only a handful of nations to do so.  Now they’re working towards reusable spaceflight, and also manned spaceflight by setting out on one of the holy grails of human spaceflight: the reusable orbital spaceplane that takes off and lands on a runway.  No one has yet come particularly close; the Space Shuttle is by far the most successful spaceplane, but it launched as a two-stage rocket and was only partially reusable.  Venturestar sought to become a single-stage-to-orbit fully reusable rocketplane, but was cancelled.  X-37 is a fully reusable spaceplane, but cannot launch itself and requires an expendable booster to carry it to orbit.  (Or the Space Shuttle.  It was originally envisioned as fitting into a Shuttle’s payload bay.)

As the first major step on this rather long path, ISRO has built and launched a scale model spaceplane very similar in appearance to the X-37.  Called the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator, it launched early today from Sriharikota’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre atop a solid-propellant ATV sounding rocket, an unusually heavy sounding rocket built by ISRO largely for projects such as this one.  It accelerated the automonous spaceplane to at least Mach 5, reaching a maximum altitude of 65 km and a downrange distance of 450 km before making what was apparently a surprisingly well controlled bellyflop into the Bay of Bengal.  (The test article was not intended to be recoverable, as it survival was considered dubious.  But it will have recoverable successors.)  It carried out tests of the heatshield technology, guidance, flight control, and navigation systems.  It did not reach the Karman Line and thus is not a true spaceflight, but it was not intended to be; this is a subscale test to validate the basic design before proceeding to higher energies.

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