The Age of the GSLV Mk III

India’s GSLV Programme has always been tumultuous. It began in the 1990s in a bid to become self-reliant in launching communications satellite. Indian satellites were being launched primarily on the European Ariane-V launch vehicles. These are an expensive affair.

The story seems to be that India, unable to develop its own cryogenic engine fast enough, purchased them from Russia. It then build modified versions of the PSLV first stage solid fuel and second stage liquid fuelled engine to build the GSLV Mk-I. Sanctions imposed on India after the nuclear tests in Pokhran and US pressure allowed India to obtain only 7 Russian cryogenic engines in the late 1990s. Of these 6 engines have been used flying the successful GSLV-D2 and GSLV-F01; and GSLV-D1, GSLV-F02, GSLV-F04 and GSLV-D4, all of which ended up being failures. In the meanwhile, India having developed its own cryogenic engine tested it flying the GSLV-D3, which was a failure. India now hopes to test the cryogenic engine again for the GSLV-D5 in January, 2014.

The GSLV programme reminds me of the ASLV programme or at least my reading of that programme. Of the four flights, only one was successful. The five stage all solid fuel carrier rocket lofted 150 kg to LEO is said to be India’s “rites of passage” into the launch vehicle technology. I see the GSLV as a similar rites of passage into the heavy lift capability. I think the ASLV was dumped faster than the GSLV because we didn’t have that much time or money to waste. ISRO is slightly better off today and we’re looking for a success with the indigenous cryogenic technology design, a breakthrough we’ve not had yet, before we move on. Like ASLV was moved on to the PSLV.

The learnings from the GSLV Mk-II programme, in my opinion, will power the Mk-III programme’s success. The first experimental launch is planned to be done in 2014.

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