India launched a new rocket, extending the country’s ability to place larger payloads into orbit. Until now, India had depended on buying launch slots from other countries and organisations, using the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket, for example. India’s 43m-tall Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mk3) took to the skies on 5 June from the Satish Dhawan space centre, on Sriharikota island, off India’s east coast. It can place 8 tonnes into an orbit of 600km altitude, and 4 tonnes into the much higher geosynchronous orbit. This ability places it on a par with the simplest configuration of the US’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket, which has performed 71 launches since 2002, but still behind the Ariane 5, which can lift 10 tonnes into geosynchronous orbit.
The launch placed India’s latest communications satellite, GSAT 19, into the 36,000km-high geosynchronous orbit, where it can appear to “hover” over India. The satellite is designed to last for a decade and provide television, data and other communications services to the country. It also carries a radiation spectrometer that will monitor the environment. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is currently upgrading the Satish Dhawan space centre’s facilities so that the GSLV Mk3 can enter full operation in a few years. At that time, they will be able to sell launches on the vehicle to other countries and companies. Following the launch, engineers at ISRO said their technology development programme will continue. They hope to now build a rocket capable of lifting 6 tonnes into geosynchronous orbit.