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Is GSLV MK-3 fully ready to launch heavy satellites from India?

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New Delhi, Feb 14: ISRO's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV-Mk III) is capable of launching four-tonne satellites in the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The rocket is also capable of placing up to eight tonnes in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), enough to carry a manned module.

Many say that this could be the rocket that the ISRO may use for India first manned spaceflight program, Gaganyan.

A file photo

Now the question arises, why the ISRO chose to go for 2.5 tonnes GSAT-31's launch earlier this month from French Guiana onboard Ariane-5 when India has its own launchpads in Shriharikota.

Firstly, the Ariane-5 launch vehicle has a good track record of launching heavy satellites into geostationary transfer orbits with great precision. Ariane-5 can carry payloads weighing more than 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and over 20 metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

ISRO also has heavy duty launch vehicle- the GSLV series. The payload capacity of the GSLV Mk-2 is about 2 metric tonnes to GTO which will not be able to insert this satellite into orbit. GSLV Mk-3 has a payload capacity of 4 metric tonnes to GTO. GSLV-Mk III, which is a three-stage vehicle with two solid motor strap-ons, a liquid propellant core stage and a cryogenic stage, could have technically launch GSAT-31 into GTO.

[Why GSLV Mk-III launch is key to Gaganyan mission?]

The probable reason could be this. Launch contracts are often done a couple of years ahead of the launch for such large satellites. Since GSLV Mark III was then technically still in the developmental phase, ISRO might have taken a decision to go with Ariane-5, in case GSLV Mk III development gets delayed. GSLV Mk III is designed to carry 4 ton class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is about twice the capability of GSLV Mk II.

[Two technologies key to ISRO's ambitious Gaganyan mission]

GSLV MkIII-D2, the second developmental flight of GSLV MkIII, successfully launched GSAT-29, a high throughput communication satellite on November 14, 2018, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. GSAT-29 satellite weighed 3423 kg, far heavier than GSAT-31.

So, GSLV-MK-3 will be operational to carry commercial satellites soon, a crucial step that will enable India's space agency to compete globally in the 3-4 tonne category of satellites.

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