India’s Space Odyssey: The Giant GSAT-19

India achieved another milestone on June 5 when it successfully launched its most powerful and heaviest geostationary rocket carrying advanced communication satellite GSAT-19 from the spaceport in Sriharikota. With the launch, India has joined an elite group of a few countries that possess the complex and high performance cryogenic technology. On May 5, India had given its neighbours an “invaluable gift” – a South Asia Satellite to provide communications and disaster support to neighbouring countries.

The Rs 235-crore satellite GSAT-9, built as part of a Rs 450-crore project, was funded entirely by India. The first developmental flight (GSLV MkIIID1) of heavy lift launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully conducted from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR. This was the first orbital mission of GSLV MkIII which was mainly intended to evaluate the vehicle performance including that of its fully indigenous cryogenic upper stage during the flight. Weighing 3136 kg at lift-off, GSAT-19 is the heaviest satellite launched from the Indian soil.

After a twenty five and a half hour smooth countdown, the mission began with the launch of the 640 ton GSLV Mk-III at 5:28 pm IST from the Second Launch Pad as scheduled with the ignition of its two S200 solid strap-on boosters. Following this, the major phases of the flight occurred as scheduled. The upper stage of GSLV MkIII vehicle is a new cryogenic stage (C25) indigenously configured, designed and realised by ISRO The cryogenic stage used liquid Hydrogen and liquid Oxygen as propellants with a total loading of 28 tons. The stage is powered by a 20 ton thrust cryogenic engine (CE20) operating on ‘gas generator cycle’.

The performance of the engine and stage during the mission was as predicted. About 16 minutes after lift-off, GSAT-19 satellite was successfully placed in orbit. Soon after its separation from GSLV, the Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan in Karnataka assumed control of the satellite. GSAT-19 is a high throughput communication satellite. GSAT-19 orbit will be raised from its present Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) to the final circular Geostationary Orbit (GSO) by firing the satellite’s Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) in stages.

During the final phase of this operation, the solar panels and antenna reflectors of the satellite will be deployed. The satellite will be commissioned into service after its positioning in the designated slot in the GSO following in-orbit testing of its payloads. GSLV Mk III is a three-stage heavy lift launch vehicle developed by ISRO. The vehicle has two solid strap-ons, a core liquid booster and a cryogenic upper stage. GSLV Mk III is designed to carry 4 ton class of satellites into GTO or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is about twice the capability of GSLV Mk II.

The two strap-on motors of GSLV Mk III are located on either side of its core liquid booster. Designated as ‘S200’, each carries 205 tons of composite solid propellant and their ignition results in vehicle lift-off. S200s function for 140 seconds. During strap-ons functioning phase, the two clustered Vikas liquid Engines of L110 liquid core booster will ignite 114 sec after lift-off to further augment the thrust of the vehicle. These two engines continue to function after the separation of the strap-ons at about 140 seconds after lift-off.

The first experimental flight of LVM3, the LVM3-X/CARE mission lifted off from Sriharikota on December 18, 2014 and successfully tested the atmospheric phase of flight. Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment was also carried out in this flight. The module re-entered, deployed its parachutes as planned and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal. GSAT-19 was a textbook launch as each of the three-stage GSLV MkIII with indigenous cryogenic engine performed without any flaw.Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists broke into thunderous applause as the complex mission was declared a success, brightening chances of India increasing its share in the commercial launch market.

A beaming ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar termed it as “a historic day” and said the GSLV MkIII D-1 has successfully demonstrated its capabilities with the injection of GSAT-19 into the desired orbit. “It is a great success in the maiden attempt and GSLV MkIII has successfully put in orbit GSAT- 19 which is a next generation satellite. I wish to congratulate the entire team which has relentlessly worked each day for today’s launch from 2002,” he said. GSAT-19, which will augment India’s communication resources, was released into GTO, some seconds ahead of the appointed time. Billed as a potential gamechanger satellite, GSAT-19 is equivalent to having a constellation of 6-7 of the older variety of communication satellites in space.

It carries Ka/Ku-band high throughput communication transponders and is the heaviest satellite to be built and launched from the country. The GSLV mission is significant for India as ISRO had been depending on foreign launchers for launching communication satellites weighing more than 2,300 kgs. GSLV MkIII, which is expected to be the vehicle to carry Indian astronauts in future, also came in for wholesome praise from ISRO scientists who gave it names ranging from “Baahubali” to “obedient boy” to “giant”. “Proud to say ISRO has given birth to a Bahubali,” said Tapan Misra, director of Space Applications Centre (SAC) of ISRO.P V Venkita Krishnan, director of ISRO propulsion complex, described the launch vehicle as a “game-changer” and said it had made “quantum leaps in terms of hardware”.

There were more of “swadeshi components” and “minimal” hardware from outside, he said. Another senior scientist, involved in the development of cryogenic stage, called the launch vehicle “smart and most obedient boy”. According to former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan, the man who conceived the GSLV Mk-III, it will be India’s vehicle to ferry Indians into space. Earlier, ISRO had launched the 3,404 kg GSAT- 18 communication satellite from Ariane, French Guiana. In 2014, the space agency successfully undertook the first experimental flight of the GSLV MkIII from Sriharikota. The vehicle in a two stage flight (with a non-functional cryogenic upper stage) carried the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-Entry Experiment to the intended height of 126 km and re-entered the atmosphere safely.

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