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Rocket fuel for Isro

The successful launch of Europe?s most powerful rocket, the Ariane 5-ECA, last week should set Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officials thinking.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 00:24 IST
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The successful launch of Europe’s most powerful rocket, the Ariane 5-ECA, last week should set Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officials thinking. The ECA reportedly carried two satellites weighing four tons apiece into orbit, proving the rocket’s capability to lift ten-ton payloads into geo-stationary orbits 23,000 miles above Earth. This is the third flight in a row for the ECA launcher that seems to have put behind it the disappointment of its flawed maiden flight, which was destroyed soon after launch in 2002.

The ECA looks set to garner a large slice of the lucrative global satellite launch market for the French-led Ariane programme. Augmentation of launch capability is vital in the business of satellites and boosters, currently dominated by heavy-lift launchers like the European Ariane and America Delta and Atlas rockets. Unfortunately, Isro appears content to rest on its laurels, the way its administrators focus overly on the PSLV launcher that’s earmarked for the moon mission. If Isro is to make its mark in the international launch market, it’s imperative that it leapfrogs to the advanced versions of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) as soon as possible. True, when the first GSLV-Mark III flies sometime towards the end of 2007, it will enable Isro to launch five-ton payloads into geo-stationary orbit. But by then other players would probably have saturated the market and pushed the bar still higher.

To meet future demands of launching heavier payloads at lesser cost, conventional boosters will have to make way for reusable launch vehicles with whose low maintenance and quick turnaround time that could cut launch costs to less than a tenth of current costs. That’s what Isro should aim for.