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Metsat boosts ISROs lunar probe missionnews
Venkatachari Jagannathan
14 September 2002

Chennai: The success of launching 1,055-kg Metsat, Indias first exclusive meteorological satellite, by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C4) into a geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO), comes as a booster for Indian Space Research Organisations (ISRO) vision of a lunar probe mission.

Today our PSLV can carry a 500-kg satellite and place it at GTO. Similarly, we can develop a vehicle that can put a satellite 200 km near the moon, says ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan. (Though Metsat weighed 1,055 kg at the time of the launch, 560 kg of that consists of onboard fuel.)

Currently, the moon mission plan is orbiting among Indian space scientists. A task force has been set up by ISRO to study the various issues. According to Kasturirangan, the National Scientists Group is considering the lunar mission report. Once the group and the rulers give the go ahead signal, ISRO will be ready in four to five years time to undertake the lunar mission.

Probe mission is one where you put a satellite in the orbit near a planet rather than landing a rocket on it. As India is yet to master the technology of landing its rockets softly on the moon, a probe mission is warranted.

But what makes the space scientists to pitch for lunar probe now is not very clear. Already the US and Russia have sent several unmanned and manned crafts to the moon for in-depth studies. Perhaps with China contemplating a lunar probe after tying up with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan sending one sometime back, the Indian space scientists may be feeling that they should not be out of the loop.

Others in the industry feel that India could spend this money on developing higher payload launchers, reusable vehicles and training of cosmonauts, so that the country develops into a real force in the $10-billion global satellite launching industry, now dominated by the French company Arianespace.

India has two space launchers PSLV and Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV). While the former can carry up to 1,200 kg, the later can lift to the skies 1,500 kg. In the case of low earth orbit (LEO) the payload capacity is 360 kg. These capacities are no way near that of Ariane 5, which can carry a payload of 6.8 tonnes into GTO and 18-tonne LEO. Plans are on to increase the GTO capacity to 11 tonnes. All the Insat series satellites (weighing 2,100 -2,700 kg) have been launched by Arianspace.

According to K R Sridhara Murthi, executive director, Antrix Corporation, ISROs Rs 60-crore turnover marketing arm: In the global market the carriage fee to put a satellite in a geo-synchronous orbit is around $20,000 per kg.

Murti says the market for launching small satellites is still there and Antrix has identified 80 satellite companies to offer the services of PSLV. Yearly, around 10-12 low-weight satellites go up into the skies. We can offer a dedicated PSLV launch for $15-20 million.. Antrix has started advertising about offering PSLV for satellite launches.

With the launch costs biting into ISROs shoestring budget, plans are afoot to increase GSLVs payload capacity to 2-2.5 tonnes, first (code-named Mark II) and then to 4 tonnes (Mark IV) to launch Insat satellites. It is learnt that Insat 3D, slated for launch in mid-2003, will go up in GSLV and thereby save at least Rs 100 crore.

For GSLV to attract others to send their satellites will take a couple of more years as it is still in a development stage. But competition is increasing, with Japan entering the satellite-launching fray. A couple of days ago Japan sent up successfully its own H 2A rocket, carrying two satellites, one of them being Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System (USERS).

One of the satellite modules will re-enter the atmosphere and will be retrieved by the Japanese space agency. But India has the costs on its side and there is lot of scope for telescopic development than going by stages. Nearly 80 per cent of PSLV is localised. Even the solar array panel in Metsat and system controllers were sourced locally.

Only components like transistors, registers are imported. Similarly, with its ISRO satellite design capabilities, it can look at manufacturing satellites for others. Already China, Japan and the European Satellite Agency are into the manufacture of meteorological satellites. The country can also think about training cosmonauts.

After sending one person decades ago, India didnt pursue this aspect seriously, while China has announced plans to send astronauts out into space. Perhaps India can even think about promoting space tourism, partnering with Russia. Space tourism seems to be the latest fashion among the Americans.

Last April, a California-based millionaire Denis Tito went on an eight-day space vacation on the Soviet space shuttle Soyuz, spending $20 million. He also spent some days in NASAs International Space Station. Following Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, a South African businessman, made a trip.

And recently, US pop singer Lance Bass decided to go on a space vacation and underwent training in Russia. However, since he failed to pay up $20 million as the trip charge, the Russian Space Agency has refused to train Bass any further. Given an opportunity there are several Indian businessmen who can afford such costly vacations. Didnt we hear diamond merchant Vijay Shah spending around Rs 75 crore for his childrens wedding held near Antwerp, the worlds diamond trading centre.

Anyhow, ISROs calendar is full for next two years. Like an automobile company, the organisation has lined up several satellite launches. First will be the launch of Insat 3A by this yearend. It will be followed by INSAT 3E, GSAT 2 and 3 by GSLV-D2 & D3. Sometime in mid-2003, P6-remote sensing satellite and Insat 3D will go up, says Kasturirangan.

This will be followed by two PSLV flights carrying P5 and Cartosat2, and finally the commercial flight of GSLV-C1, most probably carrying INSAT 3D. The slew of launches is to replenish the lost stock of old satellites. Unlike the new satellites having a life of 12 years, the older ones have a life span of less than nine years.

Today only Insat 2C, 2E, 2DT, 3B and 3C are operational with Insat 1 and 2A being phased out. Towards the end of next year the first of Insat 4 series will be ready, Kasturirangan adds. Seven satellites Insat 4A to 4G with 4D as spares are being planned. The first two of the series have got the government approval.

The satellites transponder capacity has been worked out after a detailed evaluation of the projected requirements by various users. It is expected that by 2007, Insat will have 251 transponders in various bands, catering to a demand of up to 11 GBPS capacity.


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Metsat boosts ISROs lunar probe mission