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An eye in the sky for Indian Navy

An eye in the sky  for Indian Navy
Highlights

The successful launch of GSAT-7 satellite aboard an Ariane rocket from Kourou Space Port in French Guiana on August 30 marks another milestone in...

With this launch India has joined the club of the top five countries -- USA, Britain, Russia, China and France -- which have a satellite customised for defence communication.

The successful launch of GSAT-7 satellite aboard an Ariane rocket from Kourou Space Port in French Guiana on August 30 marks another milestone in Indian space technology. GSAT-7 or Rukmini has the distinction of being the first satellite exclusively dedicated for military purposes, especially Indian Navy. It is a multi-band communication satellite developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and is the sixth in a series of seven INSAT-4 communication satellites planned to be launched.

GSAT-7 is the most advanced communication satellite capable of providing a wide range of service spectrum from low bit rate voice to high bit rate data communication. It is designed to modernise communications among naval ships as well as intelligence survey. This would help to have a complete surveillance over 2,000 nautical miles of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The satellite will enable communications between the naval ships through highly encrypted secret system and help identify enemy ships and submarines.

Conversely, each of the ships in the naval fleet would have a comprehensive digital map to locate the ships and communication between naval ships is facilitated by this satellite. Similarly, the Indian Army will get vital inputs about stealthy movements over the land too. Tracking the movements of the enemy across our belligerent borders will enhance our ability for a swift attack. It has greater potential of integrating the warships, submarines and aircraft through a highly encrypted data network.

Earlier, satellite communication was through Inmarsat satellite of UK-based Global Mobile Satellite Service Company. With this launch India has joined the club of the top five countries -- USA, Britain, Russia, China and France -- which have a satellite customised for defence communication.

While India has attained the capability of having a satellite for military purposes, it is plagued by its inability to launch a communication satellite on its own. India still doesn’t have the capability to launch a communication satellite as its indigenous cryogenic engines (ICE) are yet to be tested. At least two consecutive launches have to be successful before it is declared operational. Ariane 5 launch vehicle was rented from France for the August 30 launch, as India’s indigenous rocket GSLV (Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle) is not completely functional yet. India has made consistent progress in developing various launch vehicles from the initial SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) which was first developed in the 1970s, to ASLV (Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle), a five-stage engine with solid fuel that could carry a payload of 150kg in the late 1980s. The ASLV development plans were aborted soon as ISRO didn’t have funds for both ASLV and PSLV projects. The next genre of launch vehicles was PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) which is capable of launching 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It has four stages that use solid and liquid propulsion systems alternatively.

India has so far successfully launched 63 Indian and foreign satellites with PSLVs so far. But India is unable to launch a communication satellite or the INSAT kind of satellites indigenously, as they are heavier weighing usually 2-2.5 tonnes and have to be put in geosynchronous orbit, 36,000km above Equator and 5 tonnes to a low earth orbit. That is, they move in tandem with earth and hence they are available all the time.

GSLV has three stages, first stage has solid fuel and the second stage contains liquid fuel. The final/third stage of GSLV is the cryogenic stage, which is more efficient compared to the liquid stage in PSLV. It is thus mandatory for India to master the cryotechnology to remain in the business of global satellite launching. Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLV) are needed to launch INSAT or the GSAT-14 series of geosynchronous satellites. India has initiated GSLV project in 1990. Till then India depended on the Russian cryogenic engines for communication satellite launches. India obtained 7 cryogenic engines from Russia; however, GSLV development is beset with both technological and operational problems. In 1993, the US severely objected to Russia selling cryogenic technology to India as this would violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

MTCR is an informal agreement and voluntary partnership between 34 members which includes Russia. The regime was formed by the G-7 industrial nations -- US, UK, France, Canada, Italy, Germany and Japan -- with an objective of limiting the proliferation of the missiles and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology capable of carrying 500kg payload at least 300km. As per MTCR guidelines, members established a “no undercut” policy, which means if a member denies sale of technology to another country, then the policy has to be strictly adhered to by all other members. Thus now 117 nations enforce restrictions on exports to control the proliferation of UAVs.

India has so far carried out 7 launches (6 with Russian engines and one Indian) and four have failed. After GSLV D4 failure, ISRO tried to rectify the defects and have come up with new technology and designed GSLVD5 containing the cryogenic engine. The rocket carrying the GSAT-14 communication satellite was scheduled to launch on Aug 19th. But during the pre-launch pressurisation phase a leak was observed in the UH25 fuel system of the liquid second stage and the launch was cancelled, making ISRO to go back to drawing board and gear up for the next launches. The triumph of future space programs and launches lies in the success of the GSLV.

(The writer is Delhi-based scientist)

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