NEW DELHI —
India’s heaviest, newly-developed rocket hurtled into space Monday evening carrying a communication satellite of more than three tons from Sriharikota in eastern India. It marks another milestone in the country’s ambitious space program and brings India a step closer to sending astronauts into space.
“Today is a historic day.…we have been able to successfully put the satellite into the orbit,” a smiling A.S. Kiran Kumar, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization said after the launch.
Space scientists count many benefits of the 640 ton Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III rocket which can carry a four ton payload into higher orbit. It will reduce India’s dependency on foreign space agencies to put its heavier satellites in space leading to huge savings, it can over time make it possible to send manned missions and enhance deep space exploration capabilities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the “mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability. The nation is proud!”
Although India has been dreaming big in space – mulling a manned mission to space and interplanetary missions to Venus and Jupiter, its lack of heavy lift technology remained a hurdle in giving concrete shape to those plans.
“To be very honest there was a major limitation of thinking slightly big in space,” says Ajay Lele at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. “Without a heavy launcher you cannot have ambitious programs. Even though India had gone to Moon and Mars, India had carried a very small amount of a payload. Now future missions to all those planets can help India to do major scientific research.”
The technology has not come easy -- India’s space agency has spent about 15 years to develop the heavy lift rocket.
The new rocket will also help the country enhance the commercial potential of its space program – putting satellites into space is a lucrative $ 300 billion business that India has begun exploiting. It was limited to putting smaller satellites in space so far, but can now consider heavier launches.
In the last three years India’s space program has come into international limelight with a series of landmark programs: In 2014, it sent the world’s cheapest mission to Mars, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi points out cost less than the Hollywood movie “Gravity”. Earlier this year it achieved a record by putting 104 small satellites in a single launch simultaneously into space.