Bengaluru: The Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) launched its heaviest rocket— the GSLV MK III—to put the GSAT-19 communications satellite into orbit, in a demonstration of its capability to hurl next-generation satellites into orbit and carry astronauts into outer space.
At 5.28pm, the 43m, 640-tonne geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) Mark III (D1), lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The rocket’s mission was to place the 3,136kg GSAT-19 communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) at 36,000km above earth.
The successful first developmental flight opens up commercial opportunities for Isro to launch heavy satellites for foreign customers besides reducing its own dependence on foreign space organizations such as Arianespace SA.
It demonstrates Isro’s ability to launch satellites weighing as much as 3.5-4 tonnes, up from 2.2-2.3 tons in the past.
“The GSLV-MKIII D1/GSAT-19 mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability. The nation is proud," Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a Twitter message.
The launch is the latest in a string of successes for Isro, which in February launched a record-breaking 104 nano satellites into orbit, all onboard a single rocket. On 5 May, Isro launched the 2,230kg GSAT-9 to boost connectivity among South Asian countries.
In November 2013, India launched a space probe that has been orbiting Mars since September. Last year, in nine missions, it placed 32 satellites in orbit.
ALSO READ: Isro’s GSAT-19, 11 satellites set to be game changers in communications
The Mars feat burnished India’s reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $73 million price tag drastically undercutting US space agency NASA’s $671-million Maven Mars mission.
The GSLV-Mark III rocket is India’s heaviest rocket, weighing as much as five fully loaded Boeing jumbo jets or 200 fully grown elephants.
Indian space scientists worked “relentlessly for decades and for this project since 2002 to successfully put the satellite into orbit", Isro chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said. “This is a historic day for Isro."
The flight is expected to boost India’s aspirations of carrying out manned space missions. Isro is not considering this at present. “It is one step at a time," Kumar said in a recent interview with Mint.
The successful mission means Isro now has a third stream of operational launch vehicles after the polar satellite launch vehicle and the GSLV-Mark II.
Approved in 2002, the three-stage vehicle with two solid motor strap-ons can also carry payloads weighing up to 10,000kg into the lower earth orbit at around 800km above earth.
Although Isro did not disclose the cost of the project, Kumar said in the interview that it would result in about 25% savings on the cost of satellite launches.
“We still depend on foreign procurement for heavy satellites. For example, the GSAT-17 is launching end of June from Ariane. In the very near future, this will not be required." he said.
After its separation from the GSLV MK III in GTO, GSAT-19 will reach its geostationary orbital home using an electronic propulsion system.
The satellite will use multiple spot beams covering all of India. Isro claims this will increase internet speeds and connectivity, depending on the ground infrastructure.
The first suborbital test flight of GSLV Mark III was successfully conducted on 18 December 2014.
PTI, AP and AFP contributed to this story.