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With science and technology progressing with leaps and bounds it has given mankind the platform to explore space and application of space technology for solving the complex social, economic and environmental problems confronting human life. In the 21st century the pioneers of India's space programme considered space research and space technology as indispensable for national reconstruction.

This paved the way for the emergence of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the primary body for space research under the control of the Government of India and one of the big six advanced space research organizations that dominate space. The other five are: NASA (U.S), RKA (Russia), CNSA (China), ESA (Europe) and JAXA (Japan).

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The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was established in 1969 and is currently under the Department of Space. The space programme was driven by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, considered the father of Indian Space Programme. With headquarters at Bangalore, ISRO now boasts of a workforce of approximately 17,000. Dr. K. Radhakrishnan is the present chairman of ISRO who succeeded G. Madhavan Nair in the year 2009.

The objective of ISRO is to develop space technology and its application to various national tasks. Accordingly, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully operationalised two major satellite systems namely Indian National Satellites (INSAT) for communication services and Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites for management of natural resources; also, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for launching IRS type of satellites and Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for launching INSAT type of satellites.

The objectives outlined by ISRO is met by two major space systems, INSAT for communication, television broadcasting and meteorological services, and Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) system for resources monitoring and management. ISRO has developed two satellite launch vehicles, PSLV and GSLV, to place INSAT and IRS satellites in the required orbits.

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The satellites are made at ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bangalore while the Rockets / Launch Vehicles are made at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvanathapuram. ISRO's Launch facility is located at SDSC SHAR from where Launch Vehicles and Sounding Rockets are launched. Sounding rockets are also launched from TERLS at Thiruvananthapuram.

Satellites are broadly classified into two, viz., Communication satellites and Remote Sensing satellites. A communication satellite usually operates from the Geosynchronous orbit catering to requirements in communication, television broadcasting, meteorology, disaster warning etc. A Remote Sensing satellite is intended for natural resource monitoring and management and operates from a Sun Synchronous Polar Orbit (SSPO).

There are six major centres and several other Units, Agencies, Facilities and Laboratories spread across the country. The major functions of these centres are:

  • Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram: Launch Vehicles are build.
  • ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bangalore: Satellites are designed and developed.
  • Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC – SHAR) at Sriharikota: Integration and launching of satellites and launch vehicles are carried out.
  • Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore and Mahendragiri: Development of liquid stages including cryogenic stage is carried out at LPSC.
  • Space Application Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad: Sensors for Communication and Remote Sensing satellites and application aspects of the space technology are taken up.
  • National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad: Remote Sensing satellite data reception, processing and dissemination is done.

Indian Space Programme began at Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) located at Thumba near Thiruvanathapuram. India’s first indigenous sounding rocket, RH-75, was launched on November 20, 1967.

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Aryabhatta is the first Indian satellite and it was launched from the former Soviet Union on April 19, 1975. EDUSAT-1 weighing 1950 kg and launched by GSLV-FOI on September 20, 2004 is the heaviest satellite launched from India. So far 27 launch vehicle missions have been carried from India till December 2008. So far, 51 + 16 (foreign) satellites were put into orbit.

The first launch vehicle of India was the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) that took place on July 18, 1980 from SDSC SHAR. Apart from SLV-3, India developed Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV), Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

In 2008, ISRO successfully launched its first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1 with a life span of two years. It was launched on October 22, 2008 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota (SHAR), India. The Chandrayaan-1 mission is aimed at high-resolution Remote Sensing of the Lunar surface in visible, near Infrared, low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions.

In May 1992 the U.S. Department of State imposed trade sanctions against ISRO, based on its missile proliferation activities. In part, these sanctions prohibited ISRO from receiving the U.S. exports for which a validated export license or re-export authorization was required for a two year period.

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PSLV is the first operational launch vehicle of India. It had so far three developmental flights and eight operational flights. Antrix is the commercial wing of ISRO, a single window agency for marketing Indian space capabilities both products and services to the world.

ISRO has several field installations as assets, and cooperates with the international community as a part of several bilateral and multilateral agreements. Over the years, ISRO has conducted a variety of operations for both Indian and foreign clients. ISRO's satellite launch capability is mostly provided by indigenous launch vehicles and launch sites.

For future ISRO plans to launch a number of new-generation Earth Observation Satellites. It will also undertake the development of new launch vehicles and spacecraft. ISRO has stated that it will send unmanned missions to Mars and Near-Earth Objects.

ISRO and the Department of Space have signed formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements with a number of foreign political entities, including: Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, Egypt, European Union, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

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To sum up, satellite technology seems to be emerging as the right platform for the whole gamut of national development. We already have a functional polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), for much smaller remote sensing satellites, but commercial usage has been minimal. That surely needs to change.

With appropriate adaptations, the success of the ISRO's linkages with industry and academia could be replicated in other crucial areas. To build on the successful launch of the GSLV, there should be adequate support from the Parliament as well as the Government.

The thrust of the future of ISRO should be to make the required quantum leap to take the nation closer to the rapid developments that are taking place in the select group of nations involved in space technology. India should not be happy with merely remaining in the space club. It is important that it does not remain a dawdler.

As stated by Vikram Sarabhai, “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

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