Saturday, September 29, 2012

ISRO launches its heaviest satellite

Taking another step towards meeting the shortfall of transponders for satellite TV and other communication needs, the Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) launched GSAT-10 from French Guiana on Saturday.

The 3,400-kg GSAT-10, India’s heaviest satellite till date, was launched on an Ariane-5 rocket and carried 30 communication transponders. ISRO’s master control centre at Hassan in Karnataka will manoeuvre it in its final geo-stationary orbit, alongside Insat-4A and the GSAT-12, over the next few days. GSAT-10 is the ninth Indian communication satellite in space.

“After a smooth countdown lasting 11 hours and 30 minutes, the Ariane-5 launch vehicle lifted off right on schedule. After a flight of 30 minutes and 45 seconds, GSAT-10 was injected into an elliptical Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, very close to the intended one,” ISRO said after the launch. “Preliminary checks on various subsystems of the satellite were performed and all parameters were found satisfactory. Following this, the satellite was oriented towards the earth and the sun using the on-board propulsion system. The satellite is in good health.”

In the coming five days, ISRO will perform orbit raising manoeuvres to place the satellite in the Geostationary Orbit with required inclination with reference to the equator. The satellite will be moved to the geostationary orbit (36,000 km above the equator) by using the satellite propulsion system in a three step approach.

ISRO plans to test the transponders on GSAT-10, which has an operational life of 15 years, in the second week of October.

GSAT-10 has 12 transponders in Ku-band, 12 in C-band and 6 in extended C-Band. It is expected to fill a huge gap in transponder availability.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

ISRO to launch 58 missions in 5 years

The Indian Space Research Organisation is gearing up to launch 58 missions in the next five years, informed ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan. In a press conference held here on Monday to discuss ISRO’s future plans, Radhakrishnan said two of the future missions would be commercial. “India’s first 50 space missions were achieved in 27 years and the next 50 in 10 years -- between 2002 and 2012. Our aim now is to undertake 58 missions in five years,” he said.

Radhakrishnan said the budget for the current year was Rs 6,700 crore, 36 per cent of which would be allocated for launch vehicles, 55 per cent for communication, remote sensing and navigation satellites and 9 per cent for science missions like Astrosat, Mars Orbiter and Aditya. He said the missions would include PSLV C20 with Saral satellite, which would be assembled in 20 days at Sri Harikota with the tentative launch date fixed for December 12. GSAT 7 and INSAT 3D, which were communications and meteorology satellites, were almost complete, he added. He said that the launch of Indian IRNSS satellite was planned in early July, 2013, on the PSLV C22.

Referring to the developmental delays in the GSLV D5 indigenous cryogenic engine, Radhakrishnan said ISRO was learning from previous errors and strengthening the fuel booster turbo pump. “There are two more tests with the cryo stage, which will be completed by November. We will have a flight test in January-February, 2013,” he added

The next five years would also see huge capacity addition in terms of transponders to meet the demand of 156 transponders, mostly from DTH companies. “ISRO will also create a National Database for Emergency Management and focus on other remote sensing databases in order to assist the government in planning,” Radhakrishnan added.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

India plans to build fastest supercomputer by 2017-end


The telecom ministry has drawn up an ambitious blueprint to build a supercomputer by 2017, which will be at least 61 times faster than any machine available on Monday.
Telecom and information technology minister Kapil Sibal has written to PM Manmohan Singh about the project, which is estimated to cost Rs. 4,700 crore over the next five years.

But in order to succeed, the scientists behind the project will need to defy predictions of experts across the world that the computing speeds Sibal has promised are impossible any time in the near future.

"In his (Sibal's) letter, he has said that C-DAC has developed a proposal with a roadmap to develop a petaflop and exaflop range of supercomputers in the country with an outlay of Rs. 4,700 crore," a government official said, referring to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) which built India's first supercomputer, the PARAM 8000 in 1991. A petaflop is a measure of computing speed and an exaflop is 1,000 petaflops.

At present, the world's fastest supercomputer, IBM's Sequoia, has a top computing speed of 16.32 petaflops. India's fastest supercomputer, the Cluster Platform 3000, ranks 58 among the world's fastest machines, and has a top speed of 0.3 petaflops, so the proposed machine — if successful — would be 3000 times faster.

A review commissioned by the US department of defense concluded that exaflop computing speeds were theoretically impossible anytime in the current decade.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Intercontinental ballistic missiles well within reach

Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) is the deceptively bland name that obscures from public view the Defence Research & Development  Organisation’s (DRDO’s) most glamorous laboratory. At the DRDO missile complex here in Hyderabad, ASL develops the ballistic missiles that, in the ultimate nuclear nightmare, will carry Indian nuclear weapons to targets — thousands of kilometres away. Foreign collaboration is seeping into many areas of R&D, but ASL’s technological domain — the realm of strategic ballistic missiles — is something that no country parts with, for love or for money. No foreigner would ever set foot in ASL.

But Business Standard has been allowed an exclusive visit. The erudite, soft-spoken director of ASL, Dr V G Sekharan, describes the technologies that were developed for the DRDO’s new, 5,000-kilometre range Agni-5 missile, which was tested flawlessly in April. He reveals nothing except restraint stood between India and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could strike a target anywhere on the globe.

ICBMs have ranges above 5,500 kilometres, a threshold that the Agni-5 already sits on. For India, a more strategically relevant range would be about 7,500 kilometres, which would cover the world except for the Americas.

“Going up from 5,000 kilometres to, let us say, 7,500 kilometres requires only incremental changes, which we have already assessed. We would need a more powerful booster, which we could make ourselves at ASL; and we would need to strengthen some of the systems, such as heat shielding, that are already flying on the Agni-V,” says Sekharan.
For now, however, ASL is not developing an ICBM. Instead, its focus is on “operationalising” the Agni-V, which involves putting it into a canister and conducting three to four test-launches from the canister. When the Agni-V enters service with the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), which operates India’s nuclear deterrent, it will be delivered in hermetically sealed canisters that safeguard the road-mobile missiles for over a decade, while they are transported and handled.

Launching a ballistic missile from a canister is a technological feat that ASL has perfected with smaller missiles, and will now modify for the bigger Agni-V. Since the missile’s giant rocket motors cannot be fired while it is inside the canister, a gas-generation unit at the bottom of the canister, below the missile, generates a massive boost of gas that ejects the missile from the canister.

“The gas pushes the Agni-V out, like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. In less than half a second, the 50-tonne missile clears the canister by 15 metres, and that is when the rocket motor can safely ignite. In 30 seconds, the Agni-V breaks the sound barrier and, in 90 seconds, it has left the atmosphere,” explains Sekharan.

The DRDO has promised the armed forces that the Agni-V will be test-fired from a canister in early 2013. ASL is on track to achieve that target, says Sekharan. Within a couple of months, a “pop-up test” will be conducted with a canister, in which the gas generator ejects a dummy missile. Meanwhile, the actual missile is being integrated with the canister.
The Agni-V project funding has already been cleared by the political council of the Union cabinet, a fast-track procedure for strategic projects that eliminates cumbersome MoD sanctions. This allows ASL to place orders for the materials and sub-systems that will go into the first few Agni-V missiles, taking care of production lead times. ASL scientists recount that “maraging steel” for the canister takes two years to be delivered by specialist defence PSU, Midhani. The rocket motor casings take another one year.

On the question that exercises strategic analysts the world over  —  is ASL developing “multi independently-targetable re-entry vehicles”, or MIRVs — Sekharan remains ambiguous: “I can say we are working on MIRV technologies. The key challenge — the “post-boost vehicle”, which carries the multiple warheads — is not a technology challenge, merely an engineering one. DRDO will acquire and demonstrate the capability for MIRVs by 2014-15. But the decision to deploy MIRVs would be a political one.”

MIRVs are multiple warheads, up to ten, which would be fitted atop a single Agni-V. These would be a mix of nuclear bombs and dummy warheads to confuse enemy air defences. Each warhead can be programmed to hit a different target; or multiple warheads can be directed at a single target, but with different trajectories.
Interestingly, Sekharan reveals that the DRDO does not need sanction to begin work on such technologies. “The decision-making works like this: we demonstrate the technology and the capability. Then the government decides, keeping in mind the big picture.”

“In the Agni-V, the government didn’t say, ‘we have a threat perception… I need a long-range missile.’ It was the DRDO that said that we now have the capability to enhance the Agni-III to 5,000 kilometres, and so the government