Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.wordpress.com/. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 13, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.
I began contributing to Wikipedia in 2007 with the idea of improving coverage of Indian space sciences on Wikipedia. I began working on the articles related to the astronomical observatories. This also fell in line with the space popularization work I was involved in at Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) India chapter. In 2009, I also began editing general interest articles on Wikipedia.
It was only yesterday, after a break of nearly a year or more, that I got back to editing on Wikipedia. I worked on the article of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV. The upcoming launch has me nervous and had me interested in the history of the GSLV. I looked to Wikipedia as my first port of call and was frankly, disappointed at the shape in which I found the article. So, I rolled up my sleeves and began working on the article, in true Wikipedian style.
The history of the GSLV is as interesting as the vehicle itself. It was designed specifically to carry the INSAT class of satellites which weighed in at 2 to 2.5 tons. The Project was started in 1990 as the PSLV took shape and was beginning to move towards a development flight in 1993 to reduce reliance on the US’ Delta and European Ariane launch vehicles which are expensive options. Reading up, there seems to have been confusion on how to proceed with the tricky cryogenic third stage of the vehicle. Both US and Europe refused to share the technology and India had to go to the crumbling Soviet Union for help. US and Europe refused help pointing to the fact that India had not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime. I guess they also tried to offer the technology if India became part of the regime. The Soviet Glavkosmos offered to transfer technology to India in 1991. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not stand up to US pressure on falling in line with the MTCR. It finally have India just 7 cryogenic stages and 1 ground mock up instead of 5 stages and transfer of technology. I am happy that India did not become part of MTCR despite immense pressure and need for cryogenic technology. Scientists at ISRO began work on India’s own cryogenic technology in 1994 called the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.
Even the 7 cryogenic stages Russia supplied to ISRO held surprise for ISRO. The stage was heavier and there were interface problems. The engine was also not proven on any flight. It took ISRO about 6-7 years to get the stage to fly at all. Hence you see the first flight of the GSLV in 2001.
Scientists working on the Cryogenic Project were also part of what is now called the ISRO Spy Case. The scientist has alleged that the Case was put together at the behest of foreign interests that were trying to scuttle Indian efforts at building a cryogenic engine.
Although the learning curve on the GSLV has been huge, I think it will help India build a vehicle that is as versatile as the PSLV is today.