The Indian Space Research Organisation’s second consecutive successful launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), with an indigenous cryogenic upper stage (CUS), proves that its earlier success in January 2014 — which came after a failed launch in 2010 — was no fluke. Also, this is the first time a GSLV rocket with an indigenous CUS has crossed the two-tonne payload mark: the GSAT-6 that it lifted weighed all of 2,117 kg. The ability of ISRO scientists to learn from failures, and their resilience in overcoming technical obstacles, are commendable indeed. Gaining mastery in managing the CUS, which involves a complex process of using propellants at extremely low temperatures in flight, requires higher-order skills in space technology. ISRO has not had a single launch failure in four and a half years, a fact that boosts the confidence level and morale of the scientific fraternity in the country. The record also buttresses the image ISRO commands in the realm of space launches, especially given that other global players are not very generous with technology transfers. ISRO has registered many a successful launch over the last few years, including its mission to the Mars.
However, earning the ‘operational rocket’ tag for the GSLV-Mk-II following the two consecutive successful launches will not immediately mean much, as most of the communication satellites ISRO currently makes are beyond the GSLV-Mk-II’s two-tonne capability. India’s dependence on foreign space agencies to launch those heavier satellites will continue till the GSLV-Mk-III is tested and declared operational. India spends approximately Rs.500 crore per launch, and the cost is rising with each launch. The GSLV-Mk-II, at most, can save money on our own launches but it is not a revenue-earner yet. The INSAT-4A weighing over three tonnes was designed way back in 2005 by ISRO, and the GSLV-Mk-II has cleared two tonnes only a decade later. As global trends reflect an increase in the size of communication satellites and a reduction in the size of earth observation satellites, rocket-making should aim to match future requirements besides being cost-effective. For India, a developing country, every rupee spent has to be worth it. ISRO will require more flawless Mk-II launches to understand GSLV behaviour adequately and develop the requisite confidence and expertise. But the paucity of launch pads might still limit the process. While the Mars mission and the experimental crew capsule mission are feathers in ISRO’s cap, making rockets for satellites should be the priority. Even as ISRO expands its capabilities, how soon it would achieve true self-reliance will be a crucial factor.
Source: The Hindu