Indian Space Programme: Year End Review

The year 2016 was very eventful for the Indian space programme which scored very prominent and significant successes in launch vehicle, satellite, applications and space exploration domains. The year saw an unprecedented seven launch vehicle missions all of which were successful.

Eight ISRO satellites, four student satellites and 22 foreign satellites were launched by these missions. The year 2016 also saw two successful advanced launch vehicle technology initiatives of ISRO – the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) and SCRAMJET technology demonstrator – which had their maiden test flights. Additionally, the highly successful Mars Orbiter Spacecraft of India completed two years in its orbit around Mars and India’s ASTROSAT multi-wavelength observatory successfully completed one year in orbit.

Launch Vehicle and Satellite Missions of ISRO:

PSLV-C31/IRNSS-1E Mission: In this flight, the workhorse launch vehicle PSLV launched IRNSS-1E, the fifth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation, on January 20, 2016.

PSLV-C32/IRNSS-1F Mission: In this flight, which was its 34th, PSLV launched IRNSS-1F, the sixth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation, on March 10, 2016.

PSLV-C33/IRNSS-1G Mission: In this flight, PSLV launched the seventh and the last satellite IRNSS-1G of the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation on April 28, 2016. With this, the space segment of the IRNSS is fully deployed. IRNSS signals are now available and trials with the receiver system are in progress. The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi dedicated IRNSS to the nation as ‘NavIC’ (Navigation Indian Constellation). This is an independent regional navigation satellite system designed to provide position information in the Indian region and 1500 km around the Indian mainland. IRNSS provides two types of services, namely, Standard Positioning Services (SPS) – provided to all users and Restricted Services (RS) – provided to authorised users only.

Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD): India’s first winged body aerospace vehicle, RLV-TD i.e. Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), was successfully flight tested on May 23, 2016. From the peak altitude of 65 km, RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). After successfully surviving a high temperature of re-entry, RLV-TD successfully glided down to the defined landing spot over Bay of Bengal. In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance & control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management were successfully validated.

PSLV-C34/Cartosat-2 Series Mission: On June 22, 2016, PSLV-C34 successfully launched 20 satellites in a single mission. It included India’s CARTOSAT-2 series of satellite (weighing 727 kg) as primary payload and two academic institutes’ satellites, namely, SWAYAM and SATHYABAMASAT and 17 satellites (total weighing 555 kg) of foreign customers from Canada, Germany, Indonesia and USA as co-passengers.

GSLV-F05/ INSAT-3DR Mission: On September 08, 2016, GSLV-F05, India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, equipped with the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS), successfully launched the country’s weather satellite INSAT-3DR. INSAT-3DR is a follow-on meteorological satellite to INSAT-3D. This launch is significant, considering that fact that this is the third consecutive success of the indigenous CUS, which signified the country’s successful assimilation of the complex cryogenic rocket propulsion.

The satellite carries two meteorological payloads, viz., 6 channel imager & 19 channel sounder. It also carries a Data Relay Transponder (DRT) and Satellite Aided Search and Rescue (SA&R) payload to provide continuity to INSAT SA&R services. The satellite has started providing services to the weather and meteorological community in tandem with INSAT 3D that is already in the orbit. By virtue of these 2 satellites in orbit, the country gets weather updates every 15 minutes which is yet another unique service from space.

Successful Flight Testing of ISRO’s Scramjet Engine Technology Demonstrator: The first experimental mission of ISRO’s Scramjet Engine towards the realisation of an Air Breathing Propulsion System was successfully conducted on August 28, 2016 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. The Scramjet engine designed by ISRO uses Hydrogen as fuel and the Oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidiser. This marked the maiden short duration experimental test of ISRO’s Scramjet engine with a hypersonic flight at Mach 6. ISRO’s Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), which is an advanced sounding rocket, was the solid rocket booster used for the test of Scramjet engines at supersonic conditions. ATV carrying Scramjet engines weighed 3277 kg at lift-off.

India is the fourth country to demonstrate the flight testing of Scramjet Engine. The successful technology demonstration of air-breathing Scramjet engines in flight by ISRO during the year was a modest yet important milestone in its endeavour to design and develop advanced air breathing engines including engines for ISRO’s future space transportation system

PSLV-C35/SCATSAT-1: By successfully launching SCATSAT-1 satellite carrying a scatterometer for wind vector measurement into the required polar Sun Synchronous Orbit in its PSLV-C35 mission on September 26, 2016, the PSLV facilitated continuity to Oceansat-2 Scatterometer, which completed its service in March 2014. The wind vector at sea surface information facilitated by SCATSAT-1 is used in weather prediction models and helps in accurate prediction of cyclone track. This launch of PSLV had yet another unique achievement of placing satellites in 2 different orbits and also the longest of the missions that lasted for more than 2 hrs 15 mins after lift-off. In this mission, engine multiple restart experiment of upper stage of PSLV was also demonstrated.

PSLV-C36/Resourcesat-2A: In its 38th flight, PSLV successfully launched RESOURCESAT-2A satellite on December 07, 2016 into an 822 km polar Sun Synchronous Orbit. This was PSLV’s 37th consecutive success. The 1235 kg RESOURCESAT-2A is a follow on mission to Resourcesat-2 and intended to ensure data continuity to the users for land and water resources applications. The satellite is configured with three-tier imaging capability consisting of three solid-state cameras, viz., LISS-IV, LISS-III and an Advanced Wide Field Sensor (AWiFS).

GSAT-18: The 3405 kg communication satellite GSAT-18, launched on October 06, 2016 by European Ariane V, carries a total of 48 transponders in Ku-band, C-band and Ext C-band for providing continuity of services and has further augmented the transponder capacity.

Disaster Management Support (DMS):

Uttarakhand Forest Fire: The Uttarakhand state witnessed episodic fire incidents during the last two weeks of April 2016. Recurrence of fire incidences is common in the hilly state in summer season. Satellite data based temperature anomalies were used for the detection of active fire locations. About 1600 active forest fire locations were recorded during 24th April to 4th May 2016. The burnt area was also assessed using Satellite data. The information on a near-real time basis was disseminated to Forest Survey of India, State Forest Departments, NDMA and SMS on fire alerts were sent to the identified forest officials of Uttarakhand. All Fire alerts were also published on BHUVAN geoportal. The most affected districts were Nainital, Pithoragarh, Champawat, Almora, Pauri and Tehri Garhwal.

Floods occurred in Assam and Manipur states during 2016. Three waves of floods were reported in Assam; first during fourth week of April, 2016, second on 21st June, 2016 and third on 4th July, 2016. Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Charaideo, Dhemaji and Karbi Anglong districts were affected. Heavy pre-monsoon rains lashed Manipur during the last week of April 2016 and Imphal, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts were reported to be affected. The information on flood inundation was disseminated to the Central and respective State Government departments, State Relief Commissioners and nodal Ministries.

Mars Orbiter Mission: India’s first inter-planetary mission completed two years in its orbit around Mars. The health parameters of Mars Orbiter spacecraft are normal and all the five payloads are sending useful data. The Mars Colour Camera has produced more than 530 images so far, one of which has appeared on the cover page of the November 2016 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The spacecraft successfully negotiated ‘whiteout’ geometry during May 18 – 30, 2016 using onboard autonomy. The archived data is now made public for free download and scientific research through ISRO’s website. More than 1.75 Lakh hits and about 40 GB data was downloaded in just 2 weeks. ISRO has also launched MOM Announcement of Opportunity (AO) programmes for researchers in the country to use the MOM data for R&D. The success of Mars Orbiter Mission has showcased India’s technical capability in exploring planetary bodies and has motivated India’s student and research community in a big way.

ASTROSAT Mission: ASTROSAT, India’s first multi-wavelength observatory has completed one year in orbit as of September 2016. An Announcement of Opportunity (AO) was made in June 2016 for Indian researchers to explore the universe using data from ASTROSAT. As a part of one year completion of ASTROSAT in orbit, a one-day workshop was organised at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune on Sept 29, 2016, to highlight the technical and scientific achievements of this satellite. The first scientific set of results and the future scope of the satellite were presented during the meeting.

Space technology based tools in Governance & Development: Space technology applications, derived through synergistic use of earth observation, communication & navigation satellites and complemented with ground-based observations, play a key role in harnessing the benefits of space technology for socio-economic development in the country and improving the quality of life of citizens.

Department of Space is working closely with various Central Ministries/Departments and State Governments towards maximizing the use of space technology in the various areas viz. Natural Resources Management, Energy & Infrastructure, Disaster & Early Warning, Communication & Navigation, e-Governance & Geo-spatial Governance and Societal Services. Many flagship programmes namely, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation; Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana; National Mission for Clean Ganga, Digital India & MGNREGA are also utilizing space-based tools.

Follow-up Actions on National Meet for Application of Space Technology & Tools: Out of the 160 projects emerged as an outcome of the national meet, work was initiated in 144 projects. In about 60 projects, significant progress has been made in terms of development of methodology, web and mobile applications, training and execution of work. About 75 customised web applications and 50 mobile applications were deployed. MoUs were signed with Central Ministries/Departments as well as the State Governments. Based on the request of the Ministries/ Departments for capacity building, more than 9,000 officials were trained. Additionally, Outreach programmes were also conducted in Colleges and Schools. State Meets on ‘Promoting space technology -based tools’ were completed for many States.

International Cooperation: As part of the ongoing civil space cooperation, cooperative Agreements/MoUs were signed with UAE space agency (February 2016); US Geological Survey (July 2016); Afghanistan (September 2016); Vietnam (September 2016); Russia (October 2016) Japan (November 2016) and NASA of USA (November 2016). India hosted the two international events, viz., i) UN/India workshop on “Use of earth observation data in disaster management and risk reduction: sharing the Asian experience” in Hyderabad in March 2016 and ii) 10th SPIE-Asia Pacific Remote Sensing Symposium (APRS) in New Delhi in April 2016. ISRO along with French space agency hosted a meeting of heads of space agencies on April, 03, 2016 in New Delhi to highlight the importance of space inputs for climate change studies. Space Agencies of India and Mexico organised a joint workshop in Mexico on use of space technology for disaster management in July 2016. Bilateral space cooperation meetings were organised with delegations of Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, UK and USA.