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India to test-launch re-entry capable heaviest rocket ever, to help design future space shuttle

ISRO is reckoning another milestone by launching its biggest rocket in history, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mark III), between December 15 and 20 that will test its capability to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and usher in a new phase in the space agency’s future manned Moon mission in a possible space shuttle.

GSLV Mk III is designed to make ISRO launch heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4500 to 5000 kg and also enhance the capability of the country to be a competitive player in the multimillion dollar commercial launch market. The vehicle will also carry multi-mission launch capability for GTO, LEO, Polar and intermediate circular orbits.

GSLV-Mk III is a three stage vehicle, with 42.4 m tall with a lift off weight of 630 tonnes. Its first stage comprises two identical S200 Large Solid Booster (LSB) with 200 tonne solid propellant, that are strapped on to the second stage, the L110 re-startable liquid stage.

The third stage is the C25 LOX/LH2 cryo stage. The large payload that measures 5 metres or a large bed-room which can accommodate two astronauts with a payload volume of 100 cu m. The success of GSLV Mark-III will help ISRO to put heavier satellites into orbit.

With a lift off weight of 630 tonnes, the GSLV Mark III will take a payload of 4 tonnes in to geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

“The main purpose of the mission is to test the atmospheric characteristics and stability of the rocket on its way up. We also decided to use this opportunity to test one component of the crew module – a human space mission that India may embark on at a later date,” said M.Y.S Prasad, director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

With a budget of Rs.155 crore, the Mark III experimental mission will replace its earlier cryogenic rockets and all future missions will get bigger boost up capacity. “This will be India’s new launch vehicle. It is bigger and can carry satellites upto four tonnes,” said S. Somanath, project director of GSLV Mark III.

The crew module rocket is not a manned mission but meant to study the re-entry atmospheric pressure and the vehicle’s sustainability. It will go about 110 km in space and up to 126 km in space and then crew capsule will get detached and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere before falling into the Bay of Bengal, 20 minutes after blast off.

The re-entry descent speed of the crew module will be controlled by three parachutes and it will splash down 600 km from Port Blair and 1,600 km from the space centre. The Indian Coast Guard or the Navy will recover the capsule. The crew module looks like a giant-sized cup, coloured in black on and top and brown at the bottom.

The GSLV-Mk III vehicle is designed differently from the PSLV or the GSLV models in order to make more atmospheric resistant while re-entering Earth from the space.

Though the actual human space flight will have to be in an orbit at a height of 270km, the current experimental flight with the crew module will go up to 126km above earth to test its heat shield survival chances at about 1,500 degrees Celsius during the re-entry into the atmosphere.

The experiment was taken up with a budget of Rs. 150 crore, and it includes developing a crew module to fly at least two Indian astronauts, their space suits, life support systems and other ingredients like space-compliant food that was experimented and tested by the Mysore-based Institute of Food Technology.

The GSLV-Mark III heavy rocket will use liquid nitrogen at super cooled temperature and gaseous nitrogen instead of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and the exact timing of the launch of GSLV-Mark III will depend on weather conditions, data analysis, fine-tuning the new vehicle.

The GSLV-III helps in launching heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4500 to 5000 kg. It is designed to be a three stage vehicle, with the first stage comprising two identical S200 Large Solid Booster (LSB) with 200 tonne solid propellant, that are strapped on to the second stage, the L110 re-startable liquid stage and the third stage is the C25 LOX/LH2 cryo stage.

Riding high on its successful Mars Orbiting Mission Mangalyaan in September, ISRO is aiming at future manned missions and is currently testing the its re-entry capability. China has successfully completed its capability in this sphere in October, though it failed in its Mars mission.

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