[Editorial] Maiden SSLV Mission

What is SSLV?

  • The SSLV or Small Satellite Launch Vehicle is considered as ISRO’s next workhorse rocket after PSLV and GSLV.
  • It measures just 2 m in diameter and is 35 m tall, making it smaller than the PSLV.
  • Note that PSLV is being deployed to carry satellites of varying masses into space, using it to launch small satellites with masses up to 500 kg is an overkill.
  • The SSLV was developed to carry such smaller satellites with more ease and economy.
    • This is because the 3-stage SSLV uses solid propellant as opposed to the liquid propellants used in the PSLV.
    • It also has the flexibility to launch multiple satellites on demand as it requires only minimal launch infrastructure.

What is the SSLV-D1?

  • SSLV-D1 or the EOS-2 mission marks the maiden launch of the SSLV. In this mission, the vehicle carried 2 satellites-
    • Earth Observation Satellite-2 (EOS-2)
      • It weighs 135 kg.
      • It was designed and developed by ISRO.
      • Purpose: enabling advanced remote sensing operations in the IR region for various applications like imaging for climate studies and earth observation.
    • AzadiSAT
      • It is an 8U CubeSat weighing about 8 kg.
      • It is a collective of 75 smaller payloads, each weighing 50 g, integrated by students– including girls from rural areas.
      • These are small experiments that sought to measure ionising radiations in the orbit, to enable amateurs to operate a transponder in ham radio frequency, etc.
  • The satellites were to be placed in the circular low-Earth orbit, at an altitude of 350 km above the Equator.
  • The launch took place from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

How did the mission go?

  • The excitement over the ‘baby rocket’s’ launch turned into disappointment after it failed to place the satellites in the desired orbits. As a result, the satellites, which were detached from the SSLV, were lost.
  • In a break from the tradition of silence, the ISRO announced the reasons for the failure without delay.

Why did this happen?

  • Though the 3 stages of the SSLV performed according to expectations, issues arose in the terminal stage.
  • A sensor malfunctioned and led to the satellites being placed in an elliptical orbit instead of the desired circular orbit.
  • While circular orbits are defined by their radius, elliptical orbits are defined by long and short axes.
  • The short axis of the elliptical orbit in which the satellites were placed was small. The satellites are only 76 km above the earth’s surface.
  • At such a low altitude, the atmospheric drag would impede the satellites. Unless a huge thrust is provided, the satellites would lose height and eventually fall back to earth.

What is the way ahead?

  • One aspect that stood out in this episode was the ISRO Chairman’s (S. Somanath) direct communication and the decision to make the initial analysis quickly available to all concerned.
  • Elsewhere, space agencies invest a lot more in testing than ISRO does. While India’s approach is considered economical, low emphasis on testing could extract a cost down the lane.
  • India needs to invest more in testing if it is to attract more commercial clients for its space sector.

Conclusion:

While the development of SSLV is yet another milestone in the ISRO story, there is a need to remember that in such circumstances, while success is remarkable, failures give a lesson that comes with a cost.

Practice Question for Mains:

Examine the significance of the recent SSLV mission and the reasons behind its failure. (250 words)

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