The Indian Space Research Organisation has gotten over the setback it suffered on account of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, and has ended the year with six launch vehicle missions and seven satellite missions. The number is lower than that achieved in 2018, when Isro had completed 16 missions and was preparing for some major milestones, including the launch of Chandrayaan-2, preparing for India's first human space programme 'Gaganyaan' and its mission to the Sun: Aditya-1.
At the beginning of the year 2019, Isro said it was planning as many as 32 missions, including 14 launch vehicles, 17 satellite and one Technology Demonstration missions. The complex Chandrayaan-2 and the development flights of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle or SSLVs, were an intrinsic part of this plan. SSLVs are the new member in the Launch Vehicle family.
After completing 16 missions in 2018, Isro started the year 2019 not with a launch, but with the signing of an MoU with industries to outsource the production of its reliable launch vehicle Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). This is the agency's first major breakthrough, as it will help Isro focus on satellite applications rather than rockets. Isro chairman K Sivan had asserted that the development would save the agency a great deal in time and resources, especially human resources.
Listeners might recall that the Government of India has approved several high-end time-bound projects, including the commercialisation of GSLV Mk III, the design and development of semi-cryo stage, the Gaganyaan human space mission and other advanced space exploration missions.
Stating that it was evident that Isro's limited resources would be used to ensure the timely completion of these projects, in which a great deal of research and development is involved, he asserted that at the same time, the regular production of PSLV shall be realised by an industry consortium and ISRO will confine itself to do mission analysis and planning, and configuration controls.
Isro also strengthened its collaboration with Academia by announcing the setting up of six ISRO Research Chairs at various institutions -- one each in the six geographically distributed zones of India -- to cater to the emerging technology development needs and incubation centres across the country.
The launches started with the PSLV-C44 mission on January 24. It was the first mission of PSLV-DL and is a new variant of the PSLV. The rocket carried Microsat-R, an imaging satellite, and Kalamsat, a student satellite to the Sun Synchronous Polar Orbit.
During the next four months, the space agency had three launches, including a satellite launch from French Guiana in May. Isro also signed an MoU with the Indian Air Force for cooperation in crew selection and training for the Gaganyaan Project, the country's Human Space Programme targeted for 2022.
In March 2019, another milestone was achieved when the Government announced the formation of NewSpace India, with a business plan that was identical to that of Antrix Corporation, the first commercial arm of ISRO. It will be a nodal agency for PSLV.
Between June and September, Isro's focus was largely on Chandrayaan-2, which it claimed from the day was a far greater technical challenge than the controlled crash of its predecessor. Isro attempted to land its lander on the South Pole of the Moon, a feat which till date has not been attempted by any other country. On July 15, amid the excitement at the last moment, the mission had to be called off as Isro found a technical snag. After correcting the issue, Chandrayaan-2 was launched on July 22 for a 48-day journey.
While the Orbiter was successfully inserted into the lunar orbit on September 2, Isro's attempt to soft land the Vikram on the Moon did not succeed. With the fuel available, the life of the orbiter could be seven years instead of the scheduled five years.
After this setback, Isro returned to the launch phase in November, when it launched PSLV-C47 successfully. The vehicle carried Cartosat-3 and 13 nanosatellites from the US successfully into orbit. Cartosat-3 is a third-generation agile advanced earth observation satellite having high-resolution imaging capabilities. The mission life of the satellite is five years. Besides civilian use for large-scale urban planning, coastal land use, rural resource and infrastructure development, the satellite will also increase the space-surveillance capability of the security forces.
The year ended with successful launch of PSLV's 50th mission. The rocket PSLV-C48 placed India’s latest spy satellite RISAT-2BR1 and nine other foreign satellites in their designated orbits.
Sivan said this would be the last launch for the year. The space agency closed 2019 with six launch vehicle missions and seven satellite missions.
What does 2020 hold for Isro?
Next year, there will be a series of launches using PSLV along with GSLV and SSLV, Sivan said, while declining to put any number. He said that PSLV has visited all the places in space including polar orbit, Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), Moon, Mars and is soon set to visit...
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