An ISRO satellite takes wings

India has certified its membership of a special six-nation club by using a cryogenic engine to launch a heavy satellite into an orbit 36,000 km away. Over 20 nations have the technology to launch light satellites, but only India, the US, China, Russia, Japan and the Europe Space Agency have cryogenic engines to put heavy satellites into space. The success was doubly sweet because it caps ISRO’s 20 years of in-house effort after the world community blocked Russia's transfer of this technology to India. India in fact had become the sixth country to use indigenous cryogenic engines in January 2014, but that success was a somewhat shaky boast. That success though was based on shaky premises — the original launch was delayed by months to fix a leak and was preceded by two confidence-dampening failures. In all, four of the previous eight launches based on cryogenic technology had failed. The communications satellite launched on Thursday will especially benefit the armed forces. Their autonomy in GPS communications will be further strengthened with a similar cryogenic engine-powered launch next year. ISRO justly appropriates the credit for a string of accomplishments in the intricate science of space applications. It also deserves praise for nurturing a vast eco-system of nimble Indian high-tech companies that made Chandrayaan-I and other satellite launches possible. Now that it has mastered the precision behind cryogenic engines, admittedly with generous Russian help, ISRO is developing the Unified Launch Vehicle (ULV) programme. One ambitious variant will use two cryogenic engines of different complexities. This will enable ISRO to launch several heavy satellites in one go. There is an exploding market for small satellites and India can leverage its lead over space technology to corner a substantial chunk. For this ISRO must give Indian private companies the freedom to acquire business from other clients. So far, ISRO has bound them with an exclusive buyer-purchaser arrangement. ISRO will also be the beneficiary because with volumes of scale kicking in, private companies should be able to supply components at cheaper rates. Source: