ISRO skyrockets Modi’s S-E Asia diplomacy

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South Asia Satellite on GSLV
The South Asia Satellite takes off on GSLV-F09

Sriharikota: With the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F09) of the Indian Space Organisation (ISRO) launching the 2,230 kg South Asia Satellite (SAS), Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to draw closer to India’s neighbours and members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) using technology has tasted its first success. Modi had shared this dream of his days after assuming office three years ago, on 30 June 2014. The only jarring but expected note in this harmony was struck by a hostile Pakistan that had pulled out of this project at the stage of the proposal.

Few seconds before the launch countdown reached zero, the 4 liquid propellant strap-on motors of GSLV-F09, each carrying 42 tonnes of liquid propellants, were ignited. At count zero and after confirming the normal performance of all the four strap-on motors, the 139-tonne solid propellant first stage core motor was ignited and GSLV lifted off at 04:57 PM IST. The major phases of the flight occurred as scheduled. About 17 minutes after the lift-off, the SAS was successfully placed in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Following the successful launch, the prime minister addressed the South Asian leaders. He congratulated ISRO and remarked it was a historic day for South Asia and a day without precedence. He recalled that, 2 years ago, India had made a promise to extend the advanced space technology for the cause of growth and prosperity of the people of South Asia and felt that the successful launch of SAS today marked a fulfilment of that.

Soon after separation from the GSLV, the 2 solar arrays of the satellite were automatically deployed in quick succession and the Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan in Karnataka assumed control of the satellite.

In the coming days, the satellite orbit will be raised from its present GTO to the final circular Geostationary Orbit (GSO) by firing the satellite’s Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) in stages. The South Asia Satellite will be commissioned into service after the completion of orbit raising operations and the satellite’s positioning in its designated slot in the GSO following in-orbit testing of its payloads.

The GSLV-F09 mission is the eleventh flight of India’s GSLV and its fourth consecutive flight with the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS). The vehicle is designed to inject 2-2.5 tonne class of satellites into the GTO. The overall length of GSLV-F09 is 49.1 m.

GSLV-F09 was launched on 5 May from the Second Launch Pad (SLP) at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR (SDSC SHAR), Sriharikota, the of India.

GSLV-F09 vehicle configuration including the CUS is similar to the ones successfully flown during the previous three missions — GSLV-D5, D6 and F05 — in January 2014, August 2015 and September 2016 respectively. GSLV-D5 and D6 successfully placed two communication satellites — GSAT-14 and GSAT-6 — while GSLV-F05 placed India’s weather satellite INSAT-3DR in the intended GTOs.

S-band telemetry and C-band transponders enable GSLV-F09 performance monitoring, tracking, range safety/flight safety and Preliminary Orbit Determination (POD).

The SAS implies that Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives will now depend on Indian data for both weather updates and communication. With at least a transponder each with all the participating nations, the satellite will help in mutual communication between the member states, too. The efficacy of this information and its dissemination is bound to lead to closer ties between these countries and India.

India has offered every benefiting country its help in building the infrastructure that would support and extract benefits from the SAS. This will further strengthen relations between these countries and India.

A deal with Afghanistan is being worked out. On 22 June 2015 when the SAARC nations were supposed to meet to finalise the modalities of this space cooperation, Pakistan pulled out of the project, saying it had its own space programme to cater for its needs. It is a tall claim, as the technology of Pakistan’s space agency Space and Upper Atmosphere Commission (SUPARCO), despite being 5 years older than ISRO, is primitive. It does not have heavy-duty launchers and it cannot fully make satellites on its own.

Over a period of 12 years, the life expectancy of the SAS, India’s neighbours stand to realise a value of about Rs 10,000 crore from this gift from India, which is unique in this region of the Asian continent.

A Chinese satellite already communicates data to Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is the first country in the region to benefit from data supplied by a satellite of another country before its own satellite, made with the help of Thales, is launched later this year. Afghanistan uses an old Indian satellite acquired from Europe.

Having moved early, China has a slight edge over India in space diplomacy in south Asia. The SAS bridges this gap to some extent.

With technical inputs from ISRO
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