Satellite highs, suspension lows for Indian space sector

By Venkatachari Jagannathan, IANS,

Chennai : The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scored a century of launches in 2012 by putting into orbit four satellites, including the heaviest one built by it till date, entered a select group of nations that can build and launch radar imaging satellites (Risat) and held an international space summit in an impressive achievement for the internationally acclaimed space industry.

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The year began for ISRO with the launch of a new mission control centre at its rocket port in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh around 80 km from here.

However, February saw the government banning four former ISRO officials, including former chairman G. Madhavan Nair, from occupying official posts for their alleged role in the cancelled $300 million (Rs.60 crore) spectrum deal between Antrix Corporation (ISRO’s commercial arm) and the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Ltd.

The other indicted officials are A. Bhaskaranarayana, a former scientific secretary at ISRO; K.R. Sridharamurthi, former executive director of Antrix; and K.N. Shankara, former director of the ISRO satellite centre.

A five-member team probing the Antrix-Devas deal indicted the four people for the controversial contract while the latter rapped the Indian space agency for not putting all the facts in the pubic domain. The Kerala High Court ordered payment of compensation to former ISRO scientist S. Nambi Narayanan, who was framed in a false espionage case and later cleared of the charges by the apex court in 1996.

In end-April, ISRO’s rocket – Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C19 (PSLV-C19) – launched the Risat-1 satellite used for disaster prediction and agriculture forestry. The high resolution pictures and microwave imaging from Risat-1 could also be used for defence purposes as it can look through the clouds and fog.

With this launch, India joins a select group of nations like the US and Canada, as also some European countries, that have such advanced remote sensing satellite technology. “It was a 30-year effort,” said ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan.

In July over 2,500 scientists from 75 countries descended on Mysore, the city of palaces in Karnataka, for a week-long international space summit held in India for the second time after 33 years.

In September ISRO marked its 100th space mission while successfully launching into orbit two foreign satellites – SPOT 6, a French earth observation satellite weighing 712 kg, and a 15-kg micro satellite Proiteres from Japan.

The month also saw ISRO sending up the country’s heaviest communication satellite – the GSAT-10 – by an Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou in French Guiana to augment telecommunicaitons, direct-to-home broadcasting and civil aviation needs.

GSAT-10 with 30 communication transponders – automatic receivers and transmitters for communication and broadcast of signals – added to ISRO’s existing own transponder capacity of 168. ISRO has also taken on lease 94 transponders from foreign satellites.

GSAT-10 also carries a ‘Gagan’ navigation payload to provide improved accuracy of global positioning satellite (GPS) signals for the Airports Authority of India for civil aviation needs.

This is the second satellite in the INSAT/GSAT constellation with the Gagan payload after GSAT-8, launched in May 2011, ISRO said.

Though ISRO had said there will be a couple of rocket launches from Sriharikota before the end of this year, this did not come about.

Meanwhile, the government told parliament earlier this month that ISRO is planning to accomplish 10 space missions in 2013, with eight planned by September and the remaining two by the year-end.

The missions are three polar satellite launch vehicles, one geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle, two communication satellites, one earth observation (ocean) satellite, one meteorological satellite, one navigation satellite and a Mars orbiter.

According to ISRO Chairman Radhakrishnan, India’s tryst with Mars will begin next November.

The launch is scheduled for November 27, 2013, when the red planet will be closer to the earth so that the spacecraft could be injected into its elliptical orbit.

The Mars mission budget is at around Rs.470 crore to demonstrate India’s capability to send a spacecraft 55 million kilometres away from earth.

It is reliably learnt by IANS that ISRO will send up its geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) rocket fitted with indigenous cryogenic engine some time in mid-2013.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])