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The launch of Indian Space Research Organisation’s GSLV Mark-III went off brilliantly. This launch serves two purposes. One is the capability to deploy three-tonne or heavier satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) without having to turn to foreign launchers. The second is to use it for human space flight. Here’s some information associated with the program.
1 — Cold, very cold
The Mark-III is twice the size of its progenitor, the Mark-II, and has a three-stage propulsion—Solid, Liquid and Cryogenic. So, what is ‘cryogenic’? Something really cold. Getting fuel to a very low temperature makes for a more efficient engine, meaning heavier payloads can be sent to space. The temperature we are talking about is below -180 deg C —in comparison, the coldest recorded temperature in Siberia was around -70 deg C.
2 — On top of Indra’s mountain
We have all heard of the launch centre at Sriharikota. But, have you heard of an ISRO facility nestled on top of a hill? Welcome to Mahendragiri, home to ISRO’s propulsion complex at the southern tip of the Western Ghats. It is located in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. This is where every propellant engine for the GSLV launch vehicles is assembled, integrated and tested.
3 — The ‘G’ in GSLV
The ‘G’ in GSLV stands for ‘Geosynchronous’. It means the launch vehicle places its payload in an orbit that coincides with Earth’s own rotation. This helps a ground station to track it better, as it is in always in the same area of the sky in relation to the station.
4 — Getting them back
Let’s assume all goes well, and we succeed in sending a manned mission to space in a few years’ time. It is important that they all the people get back safe and sound. A prime objective here is to look carefully at re-entry technology. When a spacecraft comes back into Earth’s atmosphere, it is travelling at very high speed. The gravitational forces and the heat cause by the friction of the atmosphere can pull the vehicle to pieces.
The craft is reinforced with a special thermal protection system that helps it withstand the external forces. A parachute known as a ‘drogue’ is also deployed to slow down the descent and get the craft to splash down into the sea safely.
5 — 1975 to now
Since 1975, ISRO has launched 76 satellites through various vehicles, including several by technology made in India. That is an average of two every year. Quite remarkable, given the much lower funds the space organisation operates with, compared to what those in other countries get for similar programs.
6 — Wind Tunnels
Those living in the vicinity of the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore would have experienced the loud hum that emanates now and again from the Lab’s wind tunnel. What exactly goes on in there? These tunnels are large tubes with air flowing inside that simulates actual flying conditions. Each vehicle like the GSLV undergoes close to a 1000 tests to ascertain its performance under various conditions.
7 — Eyes in the sky
In the age of smart eye wear that senses and gets you what you want, it is no surprise that these spacecraft are fitted with some impressive ‘specs’. A manned orbital vehicle will include window panels that are also navigational aids with built-in sensors and instruments. It will also have cameras to help the crew monitor different parts of the vehicle.
8 — Who gets to go?
There will be room for two or maximum three people. The folks who get to do the journey are likely to be Air Force personnel, with the right physiological and psychological attributes. A trip to space as a private astronaut-tourist can be draining on the wallet—a mere USD 35 million, for example, is the ticket for a ten-day trip to the ISS.
9 — The Pathbreaker
Till now only four Indian nationals have ever received training. And only one of them made it to space. Ashoka Chakra recipient Rakesh Sharma was the man. 30-years ago, in 1984 he became the first Indian in space, flying to the then-Soviet Union’s Salyut-7 space station aboard a Soyuz capsule. The Indian Manned Spacecraft is modelled on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. The affable Wing Commander Sharma, now aged 65, leads a quiet life in Coonoor, a hill station in the Nilgiris.
10 — What’s in a few pounds
The GSLV-Mk III weighs 630-tonnes. It is the equivalent of two Boeing 747s. Or 100 fully loaded school buses. Or 160 African elephants. Or 4 million cricket balls. No pushover, this!