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India and Space Transportation Systems

Launch Vehicles are used to transport and put satellites or spacecrafts into space. In India, the launch vehicles development programme began in the early 1970s. The first experimental Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) was developed in 1980. An Augmented version of this, ASLV, was launched successfully in 1992.

India has made tremendous strides in launch vehicle technology to achieve self-reliance in satellite launch vehicle program with the operationalisation of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). Following on the heels of the first successful launch of its Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) in 1992, India tested the more capable Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) during 1993-1994, achieving success on the second attempt. Coupled with another ASLV mission in 1994, India's three launch attempts in the two-year period represented its most active campaign since its indigenous space program began in 1979.

PSLV represents ISRO's first attempt to design and develop an operational vehicle that can be used to orbit application satellites. While SLV-3 secured for India a place in the community of space-faring nations, the ASLV provided the rites of passage into launch vehicle technology for ISRO. And with PSLV, a new world-class vehicle has arrived. PSLV repeatedly proved its reliability and versatility by launching 63 satellites / spacecraft ( 28 Indian and 35 Foreign Satellites) into a variety of orbits so far. Meanwhile, the development of India's substantially larger Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) continued. Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-Mk I) commissioned after second successful flight in May 2003.

ISRO also makes the Rohini series of sounding rockets used by the Indian and international scientific community to launch payloads to various altitudes for atmospheric research and other scientific investigations. These rockets are also used to qualify some of the critical systems used for advanced launch vehicles.

All Indian space launches are conducted from the Sriharikota High Altitude Range (SHAR) on Sritharikota Island off the east coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. The original SLV-3 launch complex was converted to support the ASLV. Two new complexes with one pad each to the south were selected to support the PSLV and GSLV. The Vikran Sarabhai Space Center at the southern tip of India is the site of most launch vehicle stage development.

In terms of launch capability, the current version of PSLV can meet the launch requirements of earth observation and space science satellites. However, there is an imperative need to realise 4 Ton launch capability in GTO for launching heavier class INSAT satellites, which is crucial for reducing the cost of transponders. Therefore, an important target for the 11th plan period was to operationalise the GSLV- Mk III vehicle.

The main focus of the Space Transportation Systems during 12th plan period 2012-2017 is towards achieving self-sufficiency in launching satellites, developing launch vehicles for enhanced payload capability, adopting appropriate outsourcing strategies for assuring productionisation of launch vehicles, enhancement of infrastructure for launch vehicles and developing advanced technologies for the future. Towards this, enhancement of level of production of PSLV Vehicle systems with vigorous industry participation, completion of qualification of indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS), proving GSLV with indigenous cryogenic stage, as a reliable workhorse launch vehicle, Completion of development and qualification of C25 Engine & Stage, completion of one development flight of GSLV Mk III with 4.0 T GTO capability, progress on the development of Semi cryogenic engine with the establishment of test facilities, augmentation spaceport infrastructure to meet the launch vehicle requirements shall be pursued. During the 12th Plan period, 17 PSLV missions, 6 GSLV MK-II missions and 2 GSLV MK-III missions (including one experimental mission) are planned to be accomplished.

In the area of Launch Vehicle technology development, critical technology initiatives such as composite segmented booster case for large solid motors, elastic memory composites and Carboncarbon technology demonstrators including optimization studies of carbon-carbon processing through CVI furnace, Robotics for planetary missions, Nano materials and composite, lunar soft lander etc., shall be pursued.

With the development of GSLV Mk III, the launch vehicle fleet of ISRO would comprise of three types of vehicles viz., PSLV, GSLV and GSLV Mk III, involving a number of propulsion modules specific to each vehicle. In order to reduce the number of propulsion modules for different types of vehicles, studies have been undertaken to evolve a standard core vehicle configuration and strapon boosters with different propellant loading to meet the varying payload requirement, leading to the concept of “Unified launch vehicle”. To arrive at the standard core configuration, the most optimum solution would be to use the semi cryogenic stage as the first stage and the heavier cryogenic stage as the upper stage. This configuration would meet the payload requirements in all mass ranges for the future.

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