Trailing thick white smoke, India’s monster home-made rocket GSLV Mk III did a perfect lift-off this afternoon from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The “Naughty boy” of Space Agency ISRO is not only expected to propel it into the big league but also hopes to put a man into orbit. The 640-tonne rocket weighs as much as 200 full-grown Asian elephants or five Jumbo jets. It is expected that one day, perhaps in seven years, it will carry astronauts to space.
Here are the 10 developments in the story
- The successful launch put to rest ISRO’s concern, triggered by failures of several maiden flights. Three first launches – in 1979, 1993 and 2001 – had failed.
- Only four of GSLV’s launches had been successful – the rest ended up in the sea. Because of its repeated failures, the rocket had been dubbed the ‘Naughty Boy’. Some even disparagingly said the abbreviation GSLV stands for a “Generally Sea Loving Vehicle”.
- In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists. “The GSLV – MKIII D1/GSAT-19 mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability. The nation is proud!” he tweeted.
- Several minutes into the launch, the rocket successfully placed the communications satellite GSAT-19 into orbit. The satellite weighs nearly 4 tonne — a landmark achievement as India had struggled to match the heavier payloads of other space giants.
- The “monster rocket”, as scientists often call it, was developed over 15 years at a cost of Rs. 300 crore. It is as high as a 13-storey building and can launch satellites as heavy as 4 tonnes (4,000 kg).
- The rocket is powered by a 25-ton cryogenic engine built indigenously. It took ISRO 20 years to develop this complex technology, which Russia had denied to India under US pressure. A cryogenic engine uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants. The liquids operate at very low temperatures — minus 150 degrees Celsius, which makes them tricky to operate.
- The successful launch was another feather in the cap for scientists at ISRO, who won Asia’s race to Mars in 2014 when an Indian spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoe-string budget. That feat carved out India’s reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $73 million price tag drastically undercutting NASA’s Maven Mars $671-million mission.
- The ISRO has asked the Centre for Rs. 12,500 crore for its mission to put humans in space. If approved, the work is expected to take roughly seven years. The Indian space agency has already developed critical technologies for a human space mission. The space suit is ready and a crew module was tested in 2014.
- India wants to become the fourth nation — after Russia, the United States and China — to put astronauts into orbit but its human spaceflight programme has seen multiple stops and starts. ISRO has indicated that the first astronaut from India could well be a woman. ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.
- In February, India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014. The rocket’s main cargo was a 714-kilogram (1,574-pound) satellite for Earth observation but it was also loaded with 103 smaller “nano satellites”, nearly all from other countries.