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.)
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
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.
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
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