Modern space programme received an impetus with the leadership of Dr Vikram Sarabhai and facilities developed at Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala for launching of space vehicles. This facilitated the two stage launch of a Sounding Rocket in 1969 and India was on its way.
Indian Space Research Organization functioning under the aegis of Department of Space, Government of India is the apex body for providing direction to our space programme in terms of scientific and administrative functioning. It is overall responsible for execution, planning and management of space related technology and applications. There are several units and auxillary wings functioning in tandem with ISRO which are the SHAR centre at Sriharikota, the Vikram Sarabhai Centre at Thiruvananthapuram, the Space Application Centre at Ahmedabad, ISRO Satellite Centre located in Bangalore etc.
The expenses incurred are quite mind-boggling but it has been found necessary for weather survey, geological mapping and survey, satellite communication and remote sensing. They are also of help in the research of atmosphere and meteorology. And for these we need indigenous technology for developing rockets and satellite to help in the research activities. ISRO has successfully developed various types needed to reach different levels of the atmosphere and to be remote controlled to send back the necessary data. The range is wide from a rocket able to lift a 10 kgs payload to a height of 10 kilometers to the one capable of rising to more than 300 kilometres with a heavier pay load of about a 100 kgs.
Several launch vehicles have been successfully used by ISRO in the SLV series and the PCLV series which have resulted in our country being bracketed in the category of countries capable of launching Intermediate Range of Ballistic missiles. The necessity of developing these IRB missiles was felt as Pakistan, our neighbour and enemy country was already into this with their Ghaurim Ghazanavi and HATF missiles tested and deployed against us. China has been covertly and overtly transporting the necessary know how to them over the decades. The developed countries of the Western hemisphere have been unduly pressuring India to ban its space programmes while they have not been able to restrain Pakistan.
We deserve kudos for being successful in our developments under a total ban on any supply of missile technology from any country at all whereas Pakistan had the advantage of dedicated help from China and North Korea. The development of this technology, although more expensive for us, was needed to ward of threat from our neighbours, right fully acting as a deterrent. The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre was entrusted the task of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, ASLV and PSLV, which they successfully did.
The first satellite developed and launched by us was the ‘Aryabhatta’ in April 1975, although it was out in orbit by a Soviet Cosmos Rocket from a Soviet cosmodrome. This marked the first step in competent satellite technology. A remote sensing satellite ‘Bhaskara’ followed in June 1977 again from the erstwhile USSR. This contained two TV cameras and three microwave radiometers to transmit remote sensing imagery. Bhaskara II followed in 1981 and was in use till recently for imageries. Other functions and experiments are still continuing.
The more versatile INSAT series was planned for domestic telecommunications, geological and meteorological surveys and direct television transmission, all over the country network for beaming rural programmes. Unfortunately the first in the series INSAT-1A launched in 1982 could not be fully activated initially. In needed the support of the multipurpose satellite INSAT-1B launched in August 1983, to restore its operating capability. The use of the US space shuttle Challenger was instrumental for its launch.
The first experimental geostationary communication satellite INSAT-1C was launched in July 1988 from French Guyana. It was not indigenous and was assembled at the Ford aerospace. The purpose was to expand television and telephone capacities and collect metereological data. However, this satellite was not upto the demands made and had a very short span due to short circuit.
In the same year,1988 ,there was the launch of the just Remote Sensing Satellite IRS-1a by a Soviet Rocket ‘Vostok’. The satellite weighing nearly a tone was a put in a Polar Sun Synchronous orbit at the height of more than 900 kilometre. There were three cameras installed with detectors based on charge coupled devices, providing four band data. Three of these are of viable nature and the fourth one nearly infra-red. The National Remote Sensing Agency at Hyderabad monitors the data and makes it available.
US help was again needed for the launch of INSAT-1 D. The MeDonnel Douglas Corporation of USA blasted this off its Delta 4925 rocket successfully a long need felt after the failure of INSAT-1 C. This has been of great help with its C-Band transponders for public utilities and Government telecommunication transmission facilities. The S-B transponders are being utilized for television broadcast.
Then INSAT-1 series of satellites were quite a drain on our resources worth nearly Rs.60 crores each and that too in foreign exchange. The INSAT-2 series were planned in 1990 with an estimated cost of Rs.40 crores each. The experiment was to reduce the payload of each satellite and try to place two smaller ones in orbit, near each other and working in tandem. T he signals to be received and transmitted were to perpendicular to the other satellites. Five of the series were launched starting with INSAT-2A in July 1992 and ending with INSAT2E in April 1999. The latter was a launch with minimum hassles and will remain operational for more then a decade. The vehicle carries 17 transponders with Intel Sat the global consortium cornering the bulk in lease.
The data is to be used mainly for communication and weather monitoring, specially advanced information on destructive storms. The other important purpose, which is beneficial to the Cable TV operator, is that most of the channels are using these for TV broadcast and the operator needs to align his dish antennae with them for maximum signals. ISRO took its first giant step towards commercial utility of its launches by launching three satellites at one go with the help of a single launch vehicle PSLV-C2 or the polar satellite launch vehicle. The three launched were, a massive one tonne Ocean sat-1 of ours and two smaller ones from Germany and Korea. The feasibility was proved and we already have bookings from some developed countries for future launches.
Experiments on fitting cryogenic engines for the next generation of rockets the GSLV or Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle is at the final stage. A commercial wing of Antrix Corporation has been formed in line with the Western corporations. The sanctions were earlier to avoid this new competition from a third world country and stands exposed. The Western corporations will do the best to ensure that this venture is not a success and we should be prepared to tack them on. We are entering a new threshold and need to be dedicated and clear-eyed about our goal.