Our country’s space research operations began in the early 1960s, when satellite applications were still in the experimental phases even in the United States. With the live broadcast of the Tokyo Olympic Games across the Pacific by the American satellite ‘Syncom-3,’ Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of India’s space programme, instantly saw the possibilities of space technology for India.
The Genesis – St. Mary Magdelene Church in Thiruvanathapuram’s fishing town of Thumba
Dr. Sarabhai was convinced and envisioned that the resources in space had the capacity to answer man’s and society’s actual issues. As Director of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, Dr. Sarabhai assembled an army of capable and talented scientists, anthropologists, communicators, and engineers.. The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was established in 1962 under the Department of Atomic Energy to drive space research operations. In August 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was founded in place of INCOSPAR. In June 1972, the Government of India formed the Space Commission and the Department of Space (DOS), and in September 1972, ISRO was transferred to DOS.
Since its start, India’s space programme has been well-coordinated, with three different elements: communication and remote sensing satellites, a space transportation system, and application programmes. The first ‘Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station (ESCES)’ was operationalized in Ahmedabad in 1967, and it also served as a teaching facility for Indian and international scientists and engineers. ISRO was clear that it did not need to wait for its own satellites to begin application development, and that foreign satellites may be utilised in the early phases to demonstrate that a satellite system can contribute to national development. However, before embarking on a full-fledged satellite system, it was determined that certain controlled experiments to demonstrate the usefulness of television as a medium for national development were required. As a result, the TV show ‘Krishi Darshan’ on agricultural information for farmers was launched, and it had a positive reaction.
The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), dubbed “the greatest social experiment in the world” during 1975-76, was the next logical step. This initiative benefitted over 200,000 people by covering 2400 communities across six states and transmitting development-oriented programmes via the American Technology Satellite (ATS-6). SITE is credited with teaching 50,000 primary school science teachers in a single year.
The Satellite Telecommunication Experiments Effort (STEP), a cooperative project of ISRO and the Post and Telegraphs Department (P&T) in 1977-79, used the Franco-German Symphonie satellite. STEP was conceived as a follow-up to SITE, which concentrated on television experimentation. STEP’s goal was to provide a system test of using geosynchronous satellites for domestic communications, to improve capabilities and experience in the design, manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance of various ground segment facilities, and to build the necessary indigenous competence for the country’s proposed operational domestic satellite system, INSAT. SITE was followed by the ‘Kheda Communications Project (KCP),’ which served as a field laboratory for need-based and location-specific programme transmission in Gujarat State’s Kheda area. In 1984, the KCP received the UNESCO-IPDC (International Programme for the Development of Communication) award for rural communication efficiency.
During this time, the first Indian spacecraft, ‘Aryabhata,’ was built and launched with the help of a Soviet launcher. Another significant milestone was the creation of the first launch vehicle, the SLV-3, which could place 40 kg in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and made its first successful flight in 1980. Competence was developed for overall vehicle design, mission design, material, hardware manufacturing, solid propulsion technologies, control power plants, avionics, vehicle integration checkout, and launch operations during the SLV-3 programme. The development of multistage rocket vehicles with sufficient control and guidance systems to orbit a satellite was a significant milestone in our space programme.
During the experimental phase in the 1980s, end-to-end capability demonstration in the design, development, and in-orbit management of space systems, as well as the accompanying ground systems for users, was performed. The Bhaskara-I and II missions were pioneering advances in remote sensing, whilst the ‘Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE)’ served as a predecessor for future communication satellite systems. The sophisticated Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) development also exhibited innovative technology such as the utilisation of strap-on, bulbous heat shield, closed loop guidance, and digital autopilot. This paved the door for understanding numerous aspects of launch vehicle design for complicated missions, eventually leading to the realisation of operational launch vehicles like the PSLV and GSLV.
During the operational period in the 1990s, important space infrastructure was built in two categories: one for communication, broadcasting, and meteorology via a multi-purpose Indian National Satellite system (INSAT), and the other for Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS). During this period, important milestones were the development and operationalization of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the development of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).
It wasn’t until 1992 that the ASLV was successfully launched for the first time. At this point, the launch vehicle, which could only transport extremely modest payloads into orbit, had completed its mission. By 1993, the PSLV’s maiden flight had arrived. The initial launch was a failure. The first operational launch occurred in 1994, and since then, the PSLV has been a workhorse launch vehicle, putting in orbit both remote sensing and communications satellites, building the world’s biggest cluster, and providing unique data to Indian industry and agriculture. Since then, continuous performance enhancements have significantly increased the rocket’s payload power. Glavkosmos, under duress, prohibited the relocation of associated manufacturing and design technology to India. Until then, ISRO has been free of technology transfer restraints thanks to Sarabhai’s strategic acumen in indigenizing technology. However, in preparation for the Russian contract, ISRO management abandoned domestic cryogenic programmes. Instead of terminating the deal, Russia chose to send fully completed engines, and India began constructing an indigenous cryogenic engine to replace them in the GSLV-II.
There is also substantial controversy concerning the acquisition of cryogenic engines, with many citing the choice to abandon indigenous initiatives as a major blunder: if indigenous manufacture had commenced from the start, India would almost certainly have had a truly indigenous engine functioning. Despite this one unusual hiccup in an otherwise extremely successful programme, and the decade-long absence of future payload capabilities that followed as a result, ISRO persisted.
The most powerful Indian launch vehicle currently in use; the maiden GSLV production flight took place in 2001. The program’s gains were evaluated as a result of recurrent payload reductions and delays. The indigenous cryogenic engine was tested for the GSLV’s upper stage in 2007. ISRO reassessed the GSLV’s usefulness for the 2000-2010 decade and began work on an indigenous and new GSLV III heavy launch vehicle. The latter is unrelated to the GSLV-I/II and will use the tried-and-true configuration of two solid strap-on boosters and liquid main stages. It will be similar to the Ariane 5 and other contemporary launchers, with plenty of manned spaceflight payload capacity. The maiden flight is scheduled for 2008.
Chandrayaan 2008: ISRO intends to launch a tiny robotic spacecraft into lunar orbit atop a modified PSLV. It will examine the moon’s surface in more detail than ever before in order to discover tools. Countries including as the United States have indicated an interest in attaching the mission to their payloads. ISRO and NASA have agreed to send two NASA probes as payload.
AVATAR Scramjet: This is a long-term project aiming at developing a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) for satellite launches. In theory, AVATAR will be a low-cost small-satellite launch vehicle and, as a result, an economically feasible launch system. A scaled-down demonstration of the technology is scheduled for around 2008. ISRO recently successfully tested a scramjet air-breathing engine capable of reaching Mach 6 for seven seconds. ISRO will commence research on the usage of scramjets in RLVs after 2010.
ISRO has joined the competitive market for launching payloads with other nations. The Israel Space Agency, the TecSAR espionage satellite, and the Israeli Tauvex-II satellite module were all launched. CARTOSAT-2, which launched in July 2006, carried a 56 kilogramme Indonesian payload.
ISRO cooperated with Tata engines to produce a prototype hydrogen passenger vehicle for the Indian market, which is slated to hit the road by the end of 2008. ISRO used its cryogenic technology expertise to design hydrogen fuel cells for hydrogen storage and management.
On November 15, 2007, ISRO scored a significant milestone with the successful test of the indigenously constructed Cryogenic Stage, which would serve as the top stage of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The test was conducted on November 15, 2007, at the Liquid Propulsion test site in Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu, for a total flight time of 720 seconds. This test has completely trained the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage on the ground. The flying stage is being prepared for the next GSLV (GSLV-D3) launch in 2008.
On April 28, 2008, ISRO successfully launched ten satellites in a single mission, enhancing its space capacity. This includes the 690 kg CARTOSTAT-2 and another 83 kg Indian mini satellite, IMS-1, as well as eight other university-based nanosatellites and research and development institutions in Canada and Germany that were provided at a reduced cost as part of the Indian Department of Space’s goodwill gesture
Anna University Satellite (ANUSAT) (20th April 2009) (Death Date: April 18, 2012): It was conceived, manufactured, and integrated by Aerospace Engineering at Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chromepet, Anna University. Performs amateur radio and electronics demonstration testing
GSAT-8 / INSAT-4G (May 21st, 2011): An Indian communication satellite. GAGAN’s first payload carrier satellite. Satellite for Indian communication.
RISAT-1 (Radar Imaging Satellite) (April 26, 2012): An Indian remote sensing satellite. It is India’s heaviest earth observation satellite to date.
SARAL (ARGOS and ALTIKA satellite) (February 25th, 2013): The Satellite of ARGOS and ALTIKA is a joint Indo-French satellite programme (SARAL). It takes altimetric readings to analyse ocean circulation and the level of the water’s surface.
IRNSS-1B (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) was launched on April 4, 2014, to offer routing, monitoring, and mapping services. The satellite is powered by two solar panels that have a ten-year lifetime and can provide up to 1,660 watts of power. Astrosat (September 28, 2015): India’s first multi-wavelength space observatory spacecraft. It uses a single satellite to take multi-wavelength measurements of several celestial objects at the same time.
SathyabamaSat (June 22nd, 2016): The Indian micro experimental satellite was constructed by students and staff at Sathyabama University in Chennai. Launched in order to collect statistics on greenhouse gas emissions.
ISRO Nano Satellite 1A (INS-1A) (15th February 2017): PSLV-launched satellites that will be followed by bigger satellites. The Surface BRDF Radiometer (SBR) and the Distressed Control Single Case were both carried as payloads (SEUM). An Indian nanosatellite produced by ISRO.
HySIS (November 29th, 2018): HysIS is an earth observation spacecraft built on ISRO’s Mini Satellite-2 (IMS-2) bus. It was launched to study the earth’s surface in the visible, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared areas of the electromagnetic spectrum This information will also be available to India’s military forces.
RISAT-2BR1 (11th December 2019): Earth Observation Radar Imaging Satellite. It offers a 0.35-meter resolution improvement.