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Isro puts up a great show

The year 2014 was extraordinary in the history of the Indian space and science programme, say officials of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The year will be remembered not for the number of rockets or satellites launched by Isro, but the technical maturity it obtained after several years of hard work.

India’s premier space research organisation has become the sixth agency to join an elite league with the successful Mars Mission, after the US, Russia, Japan, China and France.

Isro also proved its cost efficient technologies. For instance, its Mars mission cost only a fourth of NASA’s, which means more countries will turn towards India to place their satellites.

Isro has mastered different space technologies: inter-planetary, flight testing of the cryogenic engine and testing its heaviest rocket for stability during flight (which will be the first major step towards a human space mission).

The application of satellites for human welfare has also been quite impressive. For instance, INSAT-3D, which became operational in January this year, played an important role in tracking Cyclone Hudhud which hit the east coast of India in October. During Cyclone Phailin, which also hit the east coast at the same time last year, images from Kalpana played a vital role.

“The year 2014 was an excellent year on the technological and other fronts,” said K Radhakrishnan, chairman, Isro.

The new government’s support was also fully extended with the budget for space research increased by 50 per cent to $ 1 billion during this financial year, though this is low compared to other countries.

The year started with the successful launch of the GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) rocket powered by an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. This was followed by the launch of two navigational satellites.

In June, Isro launched PSLV C23, carrying Spot-7 (French Earth Observation Satellite along with four passenger satellites), which was witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He asked Isro to develop satellites India could gift to SAARC countries. During his Myanmar visit Modi announced that the services of the SAARC satellite would be extended to that country too. This will be benefit Myanmar in the fields of health, telemedicine and long-distance education.

The much celebrated event this year was the insertion of the Mars Orbiter on September 24, 2014. The event made the world turn its attention towards India, which is the first country to successfully carry out such a mission in its maiden attempt.

The $ 74 million mission is the cheapest so far. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), which reached Mars on September 21, cost $ 617 million.

India is the first Asian country and Isro is the fourth space agency to send a satellite to the Mars. European, US and Russian probes have managed to orbit or land on the planet, but only after several attempts, while China is yet to make any inroads.

The year concluded with the launch of GSAT-16, a communication satellite, and the successful testing of GSLV Mark III, mainly for launching heavy satellites. India pays over Rs 500 crore to Ariane to launch communication satellites. If GSLV Mark III comes into play, India can save this money.

Isro has been chosen for this year’s Indira Gandhi prize for peace. It has been chosen for strengthening international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Radhakrishnan said India would launch five foreign satellites next year, including three from the UK, and would be completing the seven satellite constellation for India’s own navigation system. These apart, the GSAT-6 and GSAT-15 communication satellites and Astrosat will also be launched.

Isro has 188 transponders, automatic receivers and transmitters of communication signals, and GSAT-16 will add another 48. In 2015, the GSAT-15 satellite will add 24 transponders.

The construction of the second vehicle assembly building at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh will increase the number of launches from the second launch pad. “A study on the third launch pad is under way. We have to take into consideration the kind of launch vehicles and other future rockets to be developed while building the third launch pad,” Radhakrishnan said.

Isro also said it would continue to work on the second moon mission ‘Chandrayaan 2’. “In this area of scientific exploration, we have of course the ‘Chandrayaan 2′, with the Indian lander and the Indian rover, which are to be put in place in another three years’ time,” Radhakrishnan said.

According to him, “what we are now looking for is a major scientific mission and, when that can happen will depend upon the mission, could be in 2018 or 2020.”

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