Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Manned space mission possible in 7 years

In about seven years from now, India will be able to send two of its astronauts into space aboard its Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), said K. Radhakrishnan, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, on Monday.

The Centre’s go-ahead to the manned mission project is awaited. The manned mission will be preceded by three unmanned ones to the moon. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s first unmanned mission to the moon — sending Chandrayaan-1 into lunar orbit — will take place in the third quarter of 2008.

Dr. Radhakrishnan, who answered questions from reporters after the successful PSLV-C9 flight from Sriharikota, said ISRO had been conducting studies for the past four years on putting an Indian into orbit. The GSLV would be able to take a crew of two astronauts into low-earth orbit.

In a manned mission, important factors such as reliability, the safety of the crew and their module, the reliability of their ejection systems in case of any problem came into play. When the crew went round the earth in their module, they should be visible to the ground all the time.

ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair said the organisation might get the full approval for the manned mission in six months. The Government of India had sanctioned Rs. 95 crore to ISRO for doing initial studies on the project.

“PSLV has got a good brand value”

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) earned $0.6 million when its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C9) put in orbit on Monday eight nano satellites from abroad, according to K.R. Sridhara Murthy, managing director, Antrix Corporation.

The launch was executed under a commercial contract among the University of Toronto, Canada; Cosmos International, Germany; and Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s marketing agency.

Antrix Corporation charged about $12,000 for a kg for these nano satellites because they were built by the universities. Otherwise, the international rates charged for putting satellites in orbit were between $20,000 and $30,000 a kg, Mr. Sridhara Murthy said. The eight nano satellites together weighed 50 kg.

The PSLV-C9 also put in orbit Cartosat-2A and the Indian Mini Satellite (IMS-1), which were built by the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore.

Six of the eight nano satellites are clustered under the name NLS-4. The University of Toronto developed the NLS-4. It consists of Cute 1.7 and Seeds, both built in Japan. The remaining four, CAN-X2, AAUSAT-II, COMPASS-1 and Delfi-C3, were fabricated by Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The other two nano satellites, NLS-5 and Rubin-8, were built by the University of Toronto and Cosmos International. Different universities built them to learn how to miniaturise satellite technologies.

This is the fifth time that ISRO launched satellites from abroad for a fee and the PSLV put them in orbit on all occasions.

Mr. Sridhara Murthy said: “The PSLV has got a good brand value. It has flexibility. It can launch nano, mini and big satellites. It is versatile. It can launch satellites into any type of orbit that the customers want. Besides, we launch on time. All these attract customers.”

While George Koshy was the Mission Director of PSLV-C9, C. Venugopal was the Vehicle Director. M. Krishnaswamy was the Project Director of Cartosat-2A and D.V.A. Raghavamurthy was the Project Director of IMS-1. Mr. Krishnaswamy said the solar panels of both Cartosat-2A and IMS-1 had deployed. The satellites were in good health.

Moon mission in 3rd quarter of '08: ISRO

Indian space scientists are aiming to launch their ambitious Moon-mission Chandrayaan-I in the third quarter of this year. It will launch a 500 kg satellite that will orbit Earth's only natural satellite for two years for terrain mapping and lunar surface mapping.

"It is too early to attempt a human-landing mission on Moon. We will be sending a 500 kg satellite for terrain mapping and lunar surface mapping. The satellite will survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography," ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair told a press conference at Sriharikota on Monday after India successfully placed a record 10 satellites into 'precise' orbit.

"All the instruments for Chandrayaan-I are ready. A few tests have to be conducted, following which we will be ready for the launch in the third quarter of this year. A special vehicle of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) called the PSLV-XL is being prepared for it. The weight of the strap-on thrust will increase from nine to 12 tonnes. All the six motors are ready," he said.

Nair also said India's first manned space flight can be expected in seven years, after three unmanned flights with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-III configuration.

"We will be able to put two persons on a lower earth orbit," he said. "We have submitted our project proposal to the government and the Centre has already released Rs 95 crore for the project. We are awaiting the approval for the project in another six months."

India to test Agni III+ ballistic missile in 2009

India will test indigenously built Agni III+ ballistic missile with a strike range of more than 5000 km in 2009.

The long-range missile is currently in the design stage, VK Saraswat, Chief Controller (R&D) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said in Visakhapatnam on Monday.

"We are looking for trial in early 2009," he told reporters on the sidelines of the 95th Indian Science Congress in Visakhapatnam.

After the induction of the surface-to-air missile Akash by the Air Force, the Army is starting user trials for the sophisticated anti-tank Nag missiles this summer.

"User trials for Nag will be held in May-June in the Rajasthan desert," Saraswat said.

Nag is an all weather anti-tank guided missile. Design work on the missile started in 1988 and the first tests were carried out in November 1990.

India's growing strides in space : BBC Report

Rocket carrying 10 satellites is launched from Sriharikota

Monday's launch was carried live on state television

India is well known today for its software and information technology industry.

Less well known is that in a nation where more than 300 million people live on less than $1 a day, it is also a real force to reckon with when it comes to top class rocket and satellite technology.

On Monday the Indian space agency created a world record by successfully launching 10 satellites in one go.

That shattered the previous record of a Russian rocket that successfully launched eight satellites last year.

Launching 10 satellites requires immense precision. When the tricky operation starts the rocket is already travelling at 7.5 kilometres per second.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, CEO of Arianspace, Paris, says "simultaneously launching 10 satellites is a great achievement".

The Indian space agency, set up 35 years ago, is still really a baby among the world's space-faring nations. This was its 26th launch of a rocket from India's only space centre, Sriharikota, situated on the Bay of Bengal coast in southern India.

Compare this to the hundreds of launches that have been undertaken by Nasa and their Russian and European counterparts.

Impressive

The 16,000-employee Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has mastered these demanding space technologies with little outside help because of Delhi's decision to go ahead with nuclear testing way back in 1974.

So its achievements are all the more impressive.

India has a whopping 11 national communications satellites in orbit at present. That is the largest constellation for any country in the Asia-Pacific region.

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which carried the satellites

India's space programme is more than 45 years old

Today the country undoubtedly has one of the largest national networks of operational satellites anywhere in the world.

Isro argues that it's a profitable business - for every $1 spent on the space programme the return has been $2.

Its budget is less than $1bn a year, compared with more than $17bn that Nasa spends.

India's remote sensing capabilities are almost legendary.

Today there are seven Indian-made and operated remote sensing satellites in orbit, the largest number of any country in the civilian domain.

They can map at a resolution of less than a metre, which means you can literally count the number of soldiers marching in a formation, anywhere on Earth.

Almost a third of the global market for remote sensing images at a resolution of 5-6 metres has already been captured by India.

The new mapping satellite of the Cartosat series put into orbit on Monday will provide even higher resolution images to the global community as it joins its Indian twin that has already been functioning since early last year.

Knocking on the door

But to capture a significant part of the $140bn satellite launch market may take a long time as India's larger rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is still in its adolescence.

Isro has a long wait before joining the big boys club of the USA, Russia, France, Japan and China, but India is knocking at the door.

The Indian rocket used on Monday was the smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

It weighed a whopping 230 tons - as much as 50 elephants - and stands as high as a 12-storey building.

The launch earned India more than $500,000.

PSLV taking off

'Simultaneously launching 10 satellites is a great achievement'

Almost 15 minutes into the flight the 690kg Indian mapping satellite called Cartosat 2-A was put into orbit.

It was the most important passenger on board and is really a high resolution mapping satellite, which can, from its perch of more than 600km distinguish objects as small as a car.

Almost a minute later an experimental remote sensing satellite called the Indian Mini Satellite-1 was put into orbit.

Now with the two big daddies out of the way, the trickiest part was dropping off all the "babies" on board.

They are really nano-satellites, each weighing 3-16kg. These were dropped of one by one, with gaps of 20 seconds. It was all over in less than 20 minutes after lift-off.

These experimental nano-satellites have been made by university students from Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Denmark and Germany.

The eight nano-satellites are really test beds meant for pushing the frontiers of satellite technology towards making affordable satellites.

They use basic off-the-shelf electronics and have short mission lives of a year or two at most.

The total weight of these nano-satellites on this record-breaking Indian mission was about 50kg.

Big challenge

India's next big challenge is the launch of Chandrayaan-1 (Moon Craft), the country's maiden shot at the Moon to be launched later this year using the PSLV.

A $100m mission, it is meant to map the Moon surface in detail like never before and will undertake the most intense search for water on our nearest neighbour.

Cartosat 2A satellite during prelaunch tests

A mapping satellite was also put into orbit

This is first multi-continent mission in several decades, and the tables have been turned.

Countries like the US, UK and Sweden are being given literally a free ride to the Moon as India is charging them nothing for taking their instruments there.

A recent Japanese and Chinese mission carried only instruments from their own countries.

India's mark on space-faring is now indelible, with a mission for robotic landing on the Moon already scheduled for 2012 and space crafts to Mars, an asteroid and the Sun already being planned.

The Indian space agency is already looking at sending an Indian up on an Indian rocket from Indian soil within the next few years.

As Dr G Madhavan Nair, chairman of Isro put it to me: "Twenty years from now, when space travel is likely to become mundane like airline travel today, we don't want to be buying travel tickets on other people's space vehicles."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bigger rockets to help ISRO tap $3 bn global launch biz

The perfect launch of 10 satellites, two Indian and eight foreign, simultaneously by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C-9 has catapulted the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) into a new orbit. The world record mission not only demonstrates capability to launch small satellites but also puts ISRO’s commercial arm, Rs 660-crore Antrix Corporation, in a competitive position to capture a portion of the over $3-billion global satellite launch business. But if ISRO seeks to tap this market aggressively, it will have to shift focus to launch bigger rockets and heavier satellites.

Satellite launch for applications spanning direct-to-home (DTH) services, global positioning systems (GPS), education, telecom, weather monitoring and others is increasing worldwide. But the launch costs are prohibitively-high. Here, ISRO’s satellite launch services at about 60-70% cheaper costs could provide a boost to India’s space programme. “Today, PSLV is one of the proven vehicles to carry satellites. We will offer more launch products in the global market,” Antrix Corp ED KR Sridhara Murthi told ET over phone from the Sriharikota rocket launch site.

However, the challenge will be to demonstrate capability to launch heavy satellites, weighing over four tonnes. Indian rocket scientists say that such capability will be available by 2009 when ISRO readies its heavier rocket GSLV Mark-III. “PSLV is good for small satellites. The GSLV rocket is capable of carrying 2 to 2.2-tonne satellite. The Mark III GSLV vehicle and future launch vehicles will help us capture 10-15% of the market,” adds Mr Murthi.

The cluster of satellites lifted by PSLV C-9 in its 13th mission included two Indian satellites, Cartosat-2A weighing 690 kg and a 83 kg mini satellite and eight nano satellites weighing 16 kg to 27 kg from Canada, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. At present India has the capability of carrying small satellites of less than 100 kg to nearly 2.25 tonnes capacity, an area dominated by Russia, China, Ukraine and the European Space Agency.

Globally, the 720-tonne Ariane 5 rocket built by Arianespace of France can effectively put a five-tonne satellite into orbit. But the one way fare is a whopping $120 million. ``Rockets that can carry a very heavy payload will be in demand to put the next generation of super-sized satellites into space,’’ says an expert.

Other rockets capable of putting heavy satellites into space like Atlas V of America’s United Launch Alliance (ULA) can take up to eight tonnes into orbit, but are rarely available for non-US missions. Likewise, the Delta IV rocket built by the ULA is primarily for US military use. Most commercial satellites weigh between three tonnes and five tonnes and Ariane 5 can carry two into space at once.

Where India could score is the low cost of putting satellites into designated orbits. ``Launch market is a risky business requiring big investments. Countries around the world are looking for low launch cost options and this is where we could play,’’ says Mr Murthi. In the $250 billion global space market, launch vehicles account for two-thirds of the total cost. The remaining goes into building satellites and ground support for monitoring and maintaining them.

ISRO and Antrix Corp could potentially target all areas. Making rockets to lift heavier satellites successfully could provide the boost to go for a bigger share of this pie.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ISRO to launch 10 satellites in one go

For the first time in ISRO's four-decade history, it will launch an Indian mini-satellite — IMS-1 — on April 28.

The highly-proven polar satellite launch vehicle will also carry a 690-kg Cartosat-2a remote sensing satellite and eight nano satellites—-a first for simultaneous launch of 10 satellites.

"ISRO has developed and designed the 83-kg mini satellite. The launch is to try new technologies and also miniaturisation," an ISRO official told TOI from Bangalore. "It will have a two-year life span and will operate at an altitude of 635 km. The data will be available to developing countries."

The eight nano satellites are built by universities and research institutions in Canada and Germany. The satellites weigh 3 kg to 16 kg, the total weight being about 50 kg.

The much-awaited lift-off is scheduled for 9.20 am on April 28 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It will be the 13th flight of the PSLV.

The mini satellite carries two optical payloads consisting of what is known as a multispectral camera and a hyperspectral camera.

The resolution of the multispectral camera is 37 metres and that of the hyperspectral camera is 506 metres. The data from the mini satellite can be picked up by developing nations using "very little equipment", said the ISRO official.

The mini satellite will serve initially as a platform for experimenting new remote sensing technologies. The launch of a mini satellite is significant as miniaturisation is expected to play an important role in future space missions.

The Cartosat-2a, which will be used for mapping, will be placed in orbit first, followed a few seconds later by the mini satellite. Then, the foreign nano satellites will go into orbit one after the other at an interval of a few seconds.

"This exercise will be tricky because the satellites have to be placed in orbit at the right time and at the right angle," said the official.

India to blast satellite into space

An Indian rocket will next week launch an advanced remote-sensing satellite that will help plan and implement urban and rural development projects, the space agency said Thursday.

Cartosat-2A, an all-weather, reconnaissance satellite, will be lifted into space on Monday morning from the Sriharikota space centre in southern India, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.

"The launch campaign is progressing satisfactorily," the Bangalore-based agency said in a statement. "The satellite has already been integrated with the launch vehicle."

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, the workhorse of the Indian space programme, will carry the 690-kilogramme (1,518-pound) payload equipped with a high-resolution camera and advanced scientific instruments.

The PSLV's 13th flight will also carry an Indian mini-satellite weighing 83 kilogrammes and eight so-called nanosatellites developed by German and Canadian research institutions that weigh between three and 16 kilograms, the space agency said.

Identical to the mapping satellite Cartosat-2, which was launched in January 2007, Cartosat-2A will be placed in a polar orbit at an altitude of 630 kilometres (391 miles).

The satellite will be a boost to India's efforts to reinforce its urban and rural infrastructure to keep pace with an economy that has grown at an average annual pace of nearly nine percent in the past four years.

The satellite can also be used for intelligence gathering, officials have said previously.

India started its space programme in 1963, and has since developed and put several of its own satellites into space. It has also designed and built launch rockets to reduce dependence on overseas space agencies.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

HAL, IAI developing unmanned helicopter

India and Israel have begun joint development of an unmanned helicopter capable of operating in severe weather conditions, according to reports in the Israeli media. The unmanned rotary wing aircraft will have automated takeoff and landing systems for use on unprepared fields on land and from ships at sea.

Being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) unmanned air vehicle division, Malat, the helicopter will also have a dual automated sophisticated operating systems for enhanced safety, said a report in Israeli business daily, Globes.

The unmanned helicopter meant primarily for use by the navy will carry payloads such as day-and-night-imaging systems and various radar systems.

Its main advantage over unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is its ability to takeoff from and land anywhere, including from ships, the report added. 

The prototype being developed is based on the HAL-built Chetak airframe, a derivative of the French Alouette, and some reports suggest that test flights are already scheduled for the coming months.

According to these reports, the flight control system to be used in the unmanned helicopter was previously developed by IAI using a Bell 206 airfarme. Through this programme IAI developed a kit that it says will allow for a "plug and fly" conversion of any helicopter for unmanned operations.

An earlier IAI effort to develop a hovering UAV in the late 1980s was unsuccessful and led to the company terminating development activities.

However, work on vertical take-off and landing UAVs was revived following interest from potential users including the Indian and Israeli navies. While the Israeli Navy would seek to equip its fleet of missile boats, in the case of the Indian Navy options are much wider, ranging from missile boats to frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

According to Israeli media, IAI CEO Itzhak Nissan is presently in India to finalize a number of agreements with Tata. IAI signed an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to jointly develop and manufacture defence products.

IAI is also collaborating with a number of Indian aerospace companies, including the Indian Space Research Organisation which recently launched its TecSAR satellite on its launch vehicle.

3,500km range Agni-III to be testfired this month

NEW DELHI: India plans to test-fire its most ambitious strategic missile Agni-III, which can hit high-value targets deep inside China with a strike range of 3,500-km, towards April-end.

Sources said the test-firing is likely to take place in the "window" between April 20 to 30, but the exact launch date will depend on technical, environmental and other parameters. This will be the third test of the rail-mobile Agni-III — which can carry a 1.5 tonne nuclear payload — from the integrated test range on Wheeler Island off the coast of Orissa.

While the first test of the two-stage, solid-fuelled Agni-III in July 2006 had flopped, with scientists losing control of the missile over the Bay of Bengal barely 65 seconds into its flight, the second test in April 2007 had proved successful during its entire flight path of 15 minutes.

"If the third test is successful, then the ballistic missile will require just one or two more tests before it can go for limited series production and training trials by the armed forces. Its operational deployment should be possible by 2010-2011," said a source.

Till now, the armed forces have inducted the 700-km Agni-I and 2,000-km-plus Agni-II missiles, which are primarily meant for Pakistan, apart from different versions of the short-range Prithvi missile.

The government, however, is yet to give defence scientists the green signal for an advanced version of Agni-III, with a miniaturised third-stage to increase the strike distance to around 5,000-km.

"If the political directive comes, we can test this Agni-III-plus missile in a year or so," the source said.

A missile is termed an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) if it can travel distances beyond 5,500-km. ICBMs have largely remained the preserve of the five UNSC permanent members, with US and Russia leading the pack since the 1960s. China, too, has made huge strides by developing new-generation solid-fuelled road-mobile ICBMs like DF-31 (7,250-km-plus) and DF-31A (11,270-km).

With China even having SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) like JL-1 and the under-development JL-2 (8,000-km range), every major city in India is within the strike envelope of Chinese missiles.

But despite the stark asymmetry with China in terms of its huge missile and nuclear arsenal, Agni-III makes it possible to bring even Beijing and Shanghai within India's strike range. The 16.7-metre high Agni-III is a totally new system, with a massive lift-off weight of 48 tonnes, unlike the much lighter Agni-I (12 tonnes) and Agni-II (17 tonnes) missiles.

Scientists say Agni-III has many "firsts" to its credit like the "flex nozzle controls of rocket motor during the powered phase" and the "specially designed composite propellant with high specific impulse for the rocket".

The mobile land-based Agni missiles constitute a crucial part of India's nuclear deterrent posture. Though India has a declared "no-first use" policy, the nuclear doctrine holds that nuclear retaliation to a first strike by an adversary "will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage".