The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has again deferred the launch of three earth observation satellites that were planned for the third and fourth quarter of the year, including the first development flight of what is likely to be a purely commercial small satellite launch vehicle.
The three launches have now been slated for the first quarter of 2022, according to the recently released monthly report of the department of space.
Last month, Union MoS for Department of Space Dr Jitendra Singh had said the first uncrewed flight under Gaganyaan mission could take place as early as January 2022, with the second uncrewed mission also planned for later the same year. The third crewed flight will take place in 2023, he said.
This means, ISRO will have to undertake at least four missions in the first three months of 2022. There is a gap of usually a couple of months between two launches — the smallest duration between two launches in the last four years being 15 days with two separate launch pads being used.
Far behind China
ISRO conducted only two launches this year: the PSLV-C1 mission that carried Brazil’s earth observation satellite Amazonia-1 in February, and the GSLV-F10 mission with earth observation satellite EOS-03, which failed. China, meanwhile, conducted at least 47 launches in 2021, setting a global record.
“The ISRO chairman previously said the missions were deferred because of the cyclonic storm, which means all systems are already in place. If that is the case, ISRO has the capability to pull off four missions in the span of three months,” said Ajey Lele, senior fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
“Let’s take the Chandrayaan-2 mission, for example,” he said. “The launch had to be deferred (at the) last minute because of a leakage issue. The launch vehicle was de-fuelled, repaired, and the launch was again conducted within 10 days or so, which shows the agency has the launch capacity.
“Preparedness of satellites and the other systems is the challenge.”
Lele also said, “As for the Gaganyaan mission, there is no clarity on the mission plan; ISRO needs two relay satellites in space to cover the dark spots in communication with the space module. However, we do not know whether this would be done before the first uncrewed mission. If they are just testing the components for human survival during the first mission, they would not need it. However, it is always better to have all systems in place and test everything together.”
Other than the SSLV mission, the other two satellites will be launched aboard India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Of the two PSLV missions, one was initially slated for the second quarter of the year but was deferred after the second wave of the pandemic, which forced the space agency to delay all big-ticket missions planned for the year, including the first uncrewed flight under Gaganyaan mission and India’s first solar mission Aditya-L1.