India Wednesday successfully launched its 16th remote-sensing satellite, the Rs.160-crore ($32 million) Oceansat-2, to study oceans and climate, and six small European satellites on board a rocket that blasted off from here.
Under a clear blue sky, the 44.4-metre tall, 230-tonne Indian rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), built at a cost of Rs.75 crore, freed itself from the launch pad at the spaceport, around 80 km from Chennai, at 11.51 a.m. and soared upwards with a deep throated growl lugging the 960-kg Oceansat-2 and the six nano satellites all together weighing 20 kg.
It is sweet sixteen for the ISRO team as the success comes exactly 16 years after the first PSLV flew from here on Sep 20, 1993 in a failed mission.
Speaking to reporters after the successful launch, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s beaming Chairman G. Madhavan Nair said: “It is an extremely good afternoon for us. PSLV is like a wine. As it ages, it improves and gets better.”
In copybook style, the rocket first spat out Oceansat-2 at an altitude of 728 km above the earth in a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), followed by the four nano satellites – also called Cubesats, each weighing one kg. The remaining two, each weighing eight kg, were attached to the rocket’s fourth stage.
The six nano satellites are owned by European universities – four from Germany and one each from Switzerland and Turkey. They were launched under a commercial agreement.
Soon after the satellites were put into orbit, ISRO’s satellite tracking centres started monitoring them.
Nair added: “Over the years the PSLV launch frequency has improved. From a single launch every year, today we average two launches. This year the total number of launches will be four.”
ISRO will be launching Cartosat a 650 kg remote sensing satellite using PSLV and GSat-4 through Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) later this year.
According to K.R. Sridhara Murthi, executive director, Antrix Corporation Limited -ISRO’s commercial arm, the Indian space agency has a backlog of launch orders from European agencies and will be completed in a year and half time.
Speaking about the health of Oceansat-2, T.K. Alex, director, ISRO Satellite Centre, said: “The solar panels got deployed as planned. Signals from the satellite have been picked up from our stations in Antarctica and other places.”
Designed to last five years, the cuboid shaped Oceansat-2 will study the oceans’ interactions with the atmosphere. Oceansat-2 will be used for identifying potential fishing zones, sea-state forecasting, coastal zone studies, weather forecasting and climate studies.
Apart from the ISRO-developed 76-kg Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM) and a Ku-band pencil beam Scatterometer, the satellite also has a Radio Occultation Sounder for Atmospheric Studies (ROSA) developed by the Italian Space Agency.
The Scatterometer, with a ground resolution of 50 km x 50 km, is expected to provide accurate information on wind speed and direction.
The eight-band OCM, with a 360-metre spatial resolution and a swath of 1,420 km, will provide information about a particular area every two days.
The data will be used by India and will also have a good international market. Bulk of the revenue of Antrix is from selling remote sensing data.
According to K. Radhakrishnan, director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, data on the presence of fish schools are provided to various fishing harbours in the language and terms understood by the fishermen.
“As per a study of 700 fishing vessels in three states, fishermen have agreed that the data has helped them in saving fuel and time in locating the fishes.”
The ISRO official added that on an average a fishing vessel can save anything between Rs.100,000 to Rs.600,000.
Terming many news reports as mysterious stories about the country’s first moon mission, he said: “As far as we are concerned the mission is 100 percent successful. Anomalies are not uncommon and the problem needs to be studied in depth.”
Speaking about the next moon mission, he added: “We have completed the satellite design. It will have an Orbiter and a Lander. We plan to take samples of the moon surface for analysis and transmit the data.”
He said by 2012 or 2013 Chandrayaan-2 will be launched.
Not able to confirm on the reports of finding ice on the moon, Nair said: “The moon mapper has surveyed 97 percent of the surface. Before the end of this week we will let you know.”
Asked about ISRO’s assistance to the security forces fighting the Maoists, Nair said: “We are bound to give pictures to the security forces and other agencies. How they use the images is upto them.”
With the launch of Oceansat-2, ISRO now has 10 remote-sensing satellites in orbit. The others are IRS 1D, Resourcesat 1, TES, Cartosat 1, 2 and 2A, IMS 1, RISAT and Oceansat-1.
The other remote sensing satellites slated for launch are the Radar Imaging Satellite and Resourcesat-2.
Vice President Hamid Ansari, who witnessed the take-off, congratulated the ISRO team for the successful launch.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also congratulated the ISRO scientists for the successful launch of the Oceansat-2 satellite, saying it would “herald a new beginning in our understanding of the oceans”.
“PSLV has once again demonstrated its versatility and reliability through 15th successful launch in a row. The Oceansat-2 satellite will herald a new beginning in our understanding of the oceans,” the prime minister said in a message.