SPACE, when we hear this word one organisation comes in our minds i.e. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). ISRO is the pioneer space exploration agency of the Government of India, headquartered at Bengaluru. ISRO was set up in 1969 with a vision to develop and harness space technology in national development, while pursuing planetary exploration and space science research.

Before coming to ISRO and its achievements, let us first take a ride in past to understand the history of Indian space research. The space research activities were initiated in India during the early 1960’s, when applications using satellites were in experimental stages even in the United States. With the live transmission of Tokyo Olympic Games across the Pacific by the American satellite ‘Syncom-3’ demonstrating the power of communication satellites, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of Indian space programme, quickly recognised the benefits of space technologies for India.

Dr. Sarabhai was convinced and envisioned that the resources in space have the potential to address the real problems of society. As Director, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) located in Ahmedabad, Dr. Sarabhai convened an army of able and brilliant scientists, anthropologists, communicators and social scientists from all corners of the country to spearhead the Indian space programme.

India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw scientific development as an essential part of India’s future, placed space research under the jurisdiction of the Department of Atomic Energy in 1961. The DAE Director Homi Bhabha, who was father of India’s atomic programme, then, established the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Dr. Sarabhai as Chairman in 1962.

The Indian Rohini programme continued to launch sounding rockets of greater size and complexity, and the space programme was expanded and eventually given its own Government Department, separate from the Department of Atomic Energy. On August 15, 1969 the ISRO was created from the INCOSPAR programme under the DAE, continued under the Space Commission and finally the Department of Space was created in June 1972.

In the 1960s, Sarabhai had taken part in an early study with NASA regarding the feasibility of using satellites for applications as wide as direct television broadcasting, and this study had found that it was the most economical way of transmitting such broadcasts. Having recognised the benefits that the satellites could bring to India from the very start, Sarabhai and the ISRO set about designing and creating an independent launch vehicle, capable of launching into orbit, and providing the valuable experience needed for the construction of larger launch vehicles in future. Recognising the advanced capability India had in building solid motors with the Rohini series, and that other nations had favoured solid rockets for similar projects, the ISRO set about building the technology and infrastructure for the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Inspired by the American Scout rocket, the vehicle would be a four-stage all-solid vehicle.

The Aryabhata satellite, launched in 1975 from Kapustin Yar using a Soviet Cosmos-3M launch vehicle, was India’s first satellite. By 1979, the SLV was ready to be launched from a newly-established second launch site, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC). The first launch in 1979 was a failure, attributed to a control failure in the second stage. By 1980, this problem had been worked out. The first indigenous satellite launched by India was Rohini-1.

Following the success of the SLV, ISRO was keen to begin construction of a satellite launch vehicle that would be able to put truly useful satellites into polar orbits. Design of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was soon underway. This vehicle was designed as India’s workhorse launch system, taking advantage of both old technology with large reliable solid stages, and new liquid engines. At the same time, it was decided by the ISRO management that it would be prudent to develop a smaller rocket, based on the SLV that would serve as a testbed for many of the new technologies that would be used on the PSLV. The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) would test technologies like strap-on boosters and new guidance systems; so that experience could be gained before the PSLV went into full production.

It was not until 1992 that the first successful launch of the ASLV took place. At this point, the launch vehicle, which could only put very small payload into orbit, had achieved its objective. In 1993 the time had come for the maiden flight of the PSLV. The first launch was a failure. The first successful launch took place in 1994, and since then, the PSLV has become the workhorse launch vehicle—placing both remote sensing and communications satellites into orbit, creating the largest cluster in the world and providing unique data.

The first development flight of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) took place in 2001. The indigenous cryogenic engine for the GSLV’s upper stage was tested in 2007. ISRO had reconsidered the effectiveness of the GSLV for the needs of the 2000-2010 decade and began development of an indigenous and new heavy launch vehicle, GSLV III. After several delays and a sub-orbital test flight in December 2014, ISRO successfully conducted the first orbital test launch of GSLV III in June 2017.

Chandrayaan, 2008: ISRO sent a small robotic spacecraft into lunar orbit, mounted on a modified PSLV in order to survey the surface of moon in greater detail than ever before an attempt to locate resources.

AVATAR Scramjet: This is a long-term project to develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) restricted to the launch of satellites. Theoretically, AVATAR was to be a cost-effective launch vehicle for small satellites and therefore a commercially competitive launch system. ISRO successfully tested a scramjet air breathing engine which produced Mach 6 for seven seconds. ISRO continued research related to using scramjets in RLVs since 2010.

ISRO achieved a significant milestone through the successful test of indigenously developed Cryogenic Stage, to be employed as the upper stage of India’s GSLV. The test was conducted for its full flight duration of 720 seconds on November 15, 2007 at Liquid Propulsion test facility at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu. With this test, the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage has been fully qualified on the ground. The flight stage was ready for use in the next mission of GSLV (GSLV-D3) in 2008.

On April 28, 2008, ISRO successfully launched 10 satellites in a single mission. These include 690 kg CARTOSTAT-2 and another 83 kg mini Indian satellite, IMS-1; and eight other nanosatellites made by various universities; and R&D institutions in Canada and Germany offered at a subsidised price as part of a goodwill gesture by the Indian Department of Space.

Mangalyaan, 2014: India joined an exclusive global club when it successfully launched the Mars Orbiter Mission on a shoestring budget that was at least 10 times lower than a similar project by the US. Only the US, Russia and Europe had previously sent missions to Mars, but what made India’s achievement stand out was that it succeeded in its first attempt, which even the Americans and the Soviets could not do. Rs. 450-crore project revolved round the Red Planet to collect data on Mars’ atmosphere and mineral composition.

On February 15, ISRO kicked off 2017 with a historic record-breaking launch. In one of the most complicated missions in the history of Indian space exploration, India, with the help of six other nations, launched 104 satellites into space. These satellites were launched in a single launch.

 The 2230 kg satellite was launched by GSLV Mark-II (GSLV-F09) into its planned Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on May 5, 2017. This was the fourth consecutive success achieved by GSLV carrying indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage. The GSLV-F09’s main objective is to establish a smooth communication network amongst the South Asian nations by providing them with applications in Ku-band, which gives them a higher frequency range to communicate in.

With already 17 Indian satellites circling the planet, ISRO launched 18th communication satellite, GSAT-17, to join the fleet. The GSAT-17 has been designed for an operational lifespan of about 15 years. The spacecraft carries equipment to aid meteorology and search and rescue operations primarily over the Indian sub-continent.

ISRO launched its 100th satellite along with 30 others in a single mission on January 12, 2018 from Sriharikota Spaceport in Andhra Pradesh. Thirty-one spacecraft, including weather observation Cartosat-2 series satellite, were launched by PSLV-C40. Out of the 31, 28 satellites are foreign, while three are from India.

ISRO’s latest missions are GSLV-F11/GSAT-7A Mission, GSAT-11, PSLV-C43/ HysIS Mission and GSLV MkIII-D2/ GSAT-29 Mission.  GSLV-F10/Chandrayaan-2 Mission, planned during early 2019, undoubtedly shows, once again, India’s prowess in the field of space technology. Of late, ISRO has launched “Samwad with Students” on New Year Day i.e. January 1, 2019. We hope that under the leadership of Dr. K. Sivan, ISRO will be successful in all its upcoming missions and shall make many more proud moments for us.  

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