What they talk about when they talk about the GSLV?

The GSLV-F10/EOS-03 mission failed on August 12, 2021. The vehicle faced an issue in it’s third cryogenic stage.

What does ISRO mean when they say GSLV? There is a lot of confusion between the GSLV Mk I and the GSLV Mk II. The YouTuber Gareeb Scientist raised this question in a video he posted on August 8, 2021. He provides the reasons for this confusion.

I believed the first version of the story shared in Gareeb Scientist’s video. I believed that the Mk I was a reference to the GSLVs which flew with the Russian cryogenic engine, KVD-1. And, thought that the Mk II referred to the GSLV which flew with the Indian cryogenic engine, CE-7.5.

This version was shared by ISRO in the brochure of the GSLV-D3 which flew on April 15, 2010. ISRO has removed this brochure from it’s website. But, there is an archived version online as well as on the VSSC website [PDF]. Page two of this brochure carries this explanation.

The Wikipedia page for GSLV still references this explanation and describes variants in this manner. I think that this has contributed to this confusion.

ISRO seems to have changed this version of the story in 2015 in an e-book published on its website, Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet. You need an epub reader to read the book. In an essay by R V Perumal titled, Evolution of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, he mentions that the GSLV Mk I was actually a modified version of the PSLV with a cryogenic upper stage. However, since the Cryogenic Stage did not work out for the PSLV, hence the idea of the GSLV Mk I was dropped. Perumal was the Project Director for the PSLV and GSLV and later the Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC). I think I would trust this version.

Since there is no Mk I and all the flights of the GSLV are what ISRO called the Mk II project, it seems ISRO just dropped the Mk II and began calling the launch vehicle GSLV in 2017. This change is also seen on the ISRO website on the GSLV page from 2017.

The GSLV Mk III is a totally different project. I think the GSLV tag got attached to it only because it primarily delivers its payload to a geostationary transfer orbit.


Addendum – August 17, 2021

In response to this blog post @zingaroo replied on Twitter stating that ISRO had always called the GSLVs with the Russian cryogenic engines as the Mk-I and the ones with the Indian cryogenic engines as the Mk-II. He provided two examples of the same from the past.

He presents evidence from the magazine, SPACE-India April-June 2003, Page 11. Also from Gopal Raj’s book Reach for the Stars published in 2000.

It seems ISRO is also re-writing history in a way. It seems that the project started somewhere after 2010.

Does ISRO have any plans?

India’s space programme seems to be stuck in a rut.

India has three broad tracks in it’s space programme – satellites and launch vehicles programme for remote sensing, communications and navigation, planetary exploration and human spaceflight. We are trying to outsource the first to a private industry that is not prepared to handle the responsibility yet. The second is moving in slow motion. The third seems to be pushing really hard to achieve the unachievable. In the recently held, Global Space Exploration Conference 2021, Chairman, ISRO had this to say:

This is a statement that the media in India has run several times. Hence, his statement did not get any media coverage in India. ISRO is going through tough times with the spaceport under lockdown because of the large number of COVID-19 cases.

The United Arab Emirates seems to be having more ambitious planetary exploration plans than India at the moment. They are talking about two lunar missions, they have signed up for the Artemis accords and are planning to send the second astronaut to the ISS soon.

UAE has grown rich on an important natural resource, oil. This resource is limited on Earth. This has helped the nation learn important lessons in importance of natural resources for the development of the country. Hence, they want to be part of the space faring nations who get to decide how space resources are used just like OPEC controls crude oil prices on Earth.

India used to announce plans like this before. Before the Chandrayaan 1 launch, we spoke of landing humans on the Moon by 2020. While factors beyond ISRO’s control delayed the realization of these projects by years, it gave everyone a broad idea of where India was headed. Now, there is just silence in this regard.

Chairman, ISRO in his New Year message had said that the various centers had drawn up decadal plans but so far we have not seen any. When there is no action physically due to valid reasons, this is the right time to think of things. For example, China has been putting out studies about how to get humans to Mars. ISRO has been doing these studies but not publishing them.

The civilian space programme is not secretive. The idea is to use this programme to raise the morale of the workforce, inject excitement for science and commerce in the country and project India’s rising capability in the sector. This communication is an important task that is assigned to Chairman, ISRO.

A Difficult Task – Splitting ISRO and NSIL

me: I made an error in understanding this. I leave this here for record. But, I have corrected this on my newsletter.

I write a weekly newsletter on an Indian perspective to space stuff every Thursday. The edition that I sent out last Thursday (March 11) was a space policy edition.

I specifically covered a report tabled in the Rajya Sabha by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change.

Department of Space Organisation Chart. Image: ISRO.

The Standing Committee asked DoS about the role of India’s space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with the entrance of NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL). The Department replied stating that missions such as Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan and advanced technology mission would be carried on by ISRO and the rest would go to NSIL. This answer was presented to Parliament in February 2021. The Standing Committee published the report on 8 March 2021.

It is based on this answer that I said in the newsletter that:

This means that ISRO is going through a period of change as it commercializes parts of it’s operations (PSLV, GSLV, SSLV etc.) and focuses on research. This section thus marks a very important turning point in it’s journey. As shared in this PTI story, NSIL also has ambitions of building satellites and payloads. This would mean parts of works done in each center of ISRO will be commercialized and spun-off into NSIL.

Pradeep’s Space Newsletter #20

On 12 March 2021, NSIL held a press conference (NSIL press note). Here, they announced that they are planning to take over ISRO’s fleet of communications and remote sensing satellites.

I must admit I did not see the satellites bit coming. This is no small task. Managing such a fleet of satellites would need the kind of human resources and expertise that is currently only available at ISRO.

Splitting technical and human resources between ISRO and NSIL will be no small task. This is the turning point that I am referring to in the paragraph above.

DoS had put out a request for proposals (RFPs) from the industry to see if any single or a consortium of industries could develop PSLV for NSIL. This process, they claimed during the press conference will take 6 to 8 months.

This leaves the space sector with several players with them not yet knowing what they have to do. There is Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), Antrix Corporation, Space Commission and the Department of Space. The Government will have the task of putting them in order to make the sector boom. A difficult task.

ISRO Land, Challakere

Challakere is a town in Karnataka which is roughly 3.5 hour drive North East of Bengaluru. This is a place where a ₹2,700 crore plan to build India’s Human Space Flight Center (HSFC). This was where some of the tests for Chandrayaan 3 are being done.

Tender Notice to clear Bellary Jali

As usual, this news comes not from ISRO but from a tender notice posted on ISRO’s website. Based on this, I looked at the area on Google Maps. I found a few things that I shared on r/ISRO. As is usual, this is not a new discovery.

This is land allocated to ISRO in Science City. Hence, you can see the campuses for Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and even Bhaba Atomic Research Station (BARC).

Marked in blue is the ISRO Land, Chalakkere. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

You can also see the plans that were shared for the construction of this land here. Essentially, the land where we did these tests will be built over by the HSFC.

Chandrayaan-3 tests

Marked with blue arrows are craters created at ISRO Land where testing was done for Chandrayaan 2 and 3. Image credit: Pradeep Mohandas

These craters are for what are called the Lander Sensor Performance Test (LSPT). LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were conducted for Chandrayaan-2. The tender is for clearing the green swathes that you see. It is apparently full of a shrub called Bellary Jali which needs to be cleaned up before tests for Chandrayaan-3 can be conducted.

Details of LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were shared in Upagrah Apr-Jun 2017 issue (archived in Google Docs by u/Ohsin). This is the in-house magazine for U R Rao Satellite Center (URSC).

The test involves flying a Beechcraft Super King Air B-200 belonging to the National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) over the craters made for the purpose. The plane flew from 500 m to 7 km in altitude to simulate various landing conditions. They also flew early in the morning to get the same lighting conditions as on the landing site on the Moon.

RLV Landing Experiment near Chitradurga

There was mention of a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) Landing Experiment at Chitradurga.

Snippet mentioning the RLV Landing Experiment in the ISRO Annual Report 2020-21.

Interesting term in the picture above is the pseudolite (pseudo-satellite).

While exploring the surrounding of Challakere, I spotted this, which could be a possible runway to which the RLV will glide and land on.

Possible RLV landing site near Chitradurga – Chitradurga Aeronautical Test Range belonging to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (ATR-DRDO). Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This blog post is a small effort to read documents and share with you the possible rabbit holes. Following them is up to you.

Space going back to Kerala?

While listening to Mission ISRO, I realized how the focus of space activities changed from Thumba to Bengaluru in the 1970s when Prof. Satish Dhawan became ISRO Chairman after the death of Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space program.

In today’s episode, it was discussed how people in Kerala opposed the move to build Aryabhata, India’s first satellite to Bengaluru. Surendra Pal in his reconstruction says that people blockaded the movement of equipment from Thumba. It seems scientists carried some tools and books as personal luggage from Thumba to Bengaluru.

In Thiruvananthapuram, a space park was started in 2019. Many space companies have moved there. When listening to this episode today, I wondered if this is a return back to the 1960s.

While I do not want to indulge in counterfactual of what would have happened if the space program had stayed in Kerala, I think the creation of the space park is another opportunity to unlock that potential.

Kerala has lost several investment opportunities. It has lost so because of perceived unionism and the political troubles many industries have faced. But, given the slow loss of a remittance economy, there is a slow return of small and medium enterprises in the state. Unfortunately, the state has slowly lost land with no space for large industries.

The Space Park idea is a great place for space companies to register and operate from. Will it be inviting enough to get companies to move from Bengaluru to Kerala Space Park?

Skyroot Aerospace unveils Dhawan 1

Skyroot Aerospace unveiled the Dhawan 1 cryogenic engine today.

Skyroot Aerospace is a commercial launch vehicle service provider company based in Hyderabad. They hope to build a fleet of three small satellite launch vehicles called Vikram 1, Vikram 2 and Vikram 3. They hope to launch Vikram 1 in December 2021.

Dhawan 1. Image Credit: Skyroot Aerospace

Dhawan 1 is a cryogenic engine that uses liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquid oxygen as cryogenic propellants. The company says that their engine is 100% 3D printed in India. This will form the last stage of the Vikram 2 rocket. Vikram 2 is capable of lofting 520 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Skyroot dedicated the engine to Prof. Satish Dhawan on his birth centenary.

Today is Prof. Satish Dhawan’s birth centenary. He was a fluid dynamics expert who was director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru before becoming Chairman, ISRO after the death of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space program. He is credited with building up India’s communication and remote sensing satellite systems as well as development of India’s workhorse PSLV.

India also has had a tough time working with cryogenic engines. It tried to procure cryogenic engines from Russia. This was blocked by the USA. Following this, India began developing an indigenous cryogenic engine in the 1990s. Following many failures atop the GSLV, it finally became successful only in 2014. ISRO has since developed a stable of cryogenic rocket engines. Given this history, Skyroot’s success is appreciable.

They received a lot of attention in August 2020, when they became the first Indian aerospace company to test their Raman engine. Raman is the upper stage bi-propellant liquid rocket engine used for Vikram 1. Vikram 1 is capable of lofting 315 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). A few days back they also fired the ballistic evaluation model motors of their solid rocket engines. They have shared the videos on their YouTube channel.

Test firing their Raman rocket engine
Firing a scaled down version of their solid fuel engine

I am waiting to watch a static fire test of this cryogenic engine and also the first flight of Vikram 1. Good luck to Skyroot Aerospace.

A muted first anniversary for Chandrayaan 2

Arup Dasgupta writes in The Wire Science about the muted Chandrayaan 2 anniversary. This is quite contrary to the claim of the 95% mission success that ISRO spoke of at the time of the loss of lander and rover.

I broadly agree with the point Dasgupta makes in the article but have a few reservations to share.

I think there have been many more publications of results than what Dasgupta claims but they are not centralized at any one place. This has been a pain point with ISRO. I have to depend on r/ISRO for helping me find where ISRO has published this information.

I summarized the findings from Chandrayaan 2 in Issue #3 of Pradeep’s Space Newsletter under the heading Chandrayaan 2 science papers where other than the Current Science articles Dasgupta mentions, there are papers submitted to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). There may be more or perhaps COVID-19 intervened.

ISRO has announced that Chandrayaan 2 data will be released in public in October 2020. Hence the claim about there being no release of data may be premature. An announcement of opportunity may follow.

Speculation about the lander-rover, is that more news will be available with images from Chandrayaan 2 when they publish a paper about it. But the silence and reaction from ISRO about the failure of the lander-rover part of the mission has been childish.

Shanmuga Subramanian mentioned in the article above has also been continuing the search for Chandrayaan 2 lander-rover from data obtained from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) from subsequent passes over the crash site. He has also been continuing to search for impact debris of the Moon Impact Probe launched with Chandrayaan 1 in 2008. Talking of Chandrayaan 1, I will be posting here about their finding of rust on the lunar surface.

To end, I like to share VM’s post about why it’s a pain to try and follow what ISRO does. But, part of the love for our space agency is learning about ISRO using any means necessary.