Thursday, December 18, 2014

India Successfully Launches its Heaviest Rocket GSLV Mark-III, Tests Crew Module

GSLV Mk-III lift off on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: ISRO

The first experimental flight of India's next generation launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully conducted today from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Also known as LVM3-X/CARE, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight and thus carried a passive (non-functional) cryogenic upper stage. The mission began with the launch of GSLV Mk-III at 9:30 am IST from the Second Launch Pad as scheduled and about five and a half minutes later, carried its payload - the 3775 kg Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) - to the intended height of 126 km. Following this, CARE separated from the upper stage of GSLV Mk-III and re-entered the atmosphere and safely landed over Bay of Bengal with the help of its parachutes about 20 minutes 43 seconds after lift-off. “This new launch vehicle performed very well and was a great success. We had an unmanned crew module to understand re-entry characteristics. That went off successfully and the crew module splashed as expected in the Bay of Bengal,” said Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan from the mission control centre.

Two massive S-200 solid strap-on boosters, each carrying 207 tons of solid propellants, ignited at vehicle lift-off and after functioning normally, separated 153.5 seconds later. L110 liquid stage ignited 120 seconds after lift-off, while S200s were still functioning, and carried forward for the next 204.6 seconds. 

CARE separated from the passive C25 cryogenic upper stage of GSLV Mk-III 330.8 seconds after lift-off and began its guided descent for atmospheric re-entry. 

After the successful re-entry phase, CARE module's parachutes opened, following which it gently landed over Andaman Sea about 1600 km from Sriharikota, there by successfully concluding the GSLV Mk-III X/CARE mission. 

The crew module withstood the heat of around 1,600 degree Celsius while it travelled towards the surface of the Earth attracted by gravity.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated scientists for the successful launch. "Successful launch of GSLV Mk-III is yet another triumph of brilliance & hardwork of our scientists. Congrats to them for the efforts. @isro," Modi tweeted.

With today's successful GSLV Mk-III X / CARE mission, the vehicle has moved a step closer to its first developmental flight with the functional C25 cryogenic upper stage.

"We have made it again...ISRO's capability of launching heavier payloads has come to shape and this will change our destiny and our capability has significantly enhanced. The cryogenic engine is under development and it would take two years," GSLV Mk III Project Director S Somanath said. 

GSLV Mk-III lift off on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: ISRO
GSLV Mk-III lift off on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: ISRO

"This is a suborbital flight, carrying a crew module which will go up to a height of 120 km and then descend," Space Applications Centre director Dr Kiran Kumar said: "The test flight had a crew module as a dummy payload and cryogenic engine for weight simulation. The experimental flight with the crew module in a spacecraft will test whether its heat shield can survive very high temperatures during its re-entry into the atmosphere".

The Mk-III will also test the recovery of a dummy crew module from sea. The success of the module will be the core for a future Human Space Project.

A few years back ISRO had carried out a similar experiment on a smaller scale in which the module had orbited around the earth for 15 days before entering back.

CARE Crew Module floating in the Andaman Sea after splash down. Credit: ISRO
CARE Crew Module floating in the Andaman Sea after splash down. Credit: ISRO

Former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan, who was present at the Mission Control Centre, said, "It is a proud moment indeed. I really came to see the launch. A lot of engineers have really worked extremely hard for this. More than 10 years of hard work has gone behind this success today."

Though it would take at least 10 years for India to send humans into space, this experiment has helped the space agency to test the module for safe return of humans from space, according to ISRO.

The Indian government has not approved any human mission to space so far.

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