A success for the suborbital test of the Indian rocket GSLV Mk. 3

The GSLV Mk. 3 rocket on the launch platform (Photo courtesy ISRO. All rights reserved)
The GSLV Mk. 3 rocket on the launch platform (Photo courtesy ISRO. All rights reserved)

A few hours ago ISRO, the Indian space agency, carried out the first test launch of the new carrier rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, also known simply as GSLV-III, LVM3 or GSLV Mk. 3. This test lasted about twenty minutes since it was only a suborbital flight. The result is a success though the analyzes of the recorded data and the CARE capsule will be made later.

The GSLV Mk. 3 carrier rocket mustn’t be confused with the GSLV successfully launched at the beginning of 2014. Both rockets are designed to carry cargos up to geosynchronous orbit but between the two of them there are several differences. The GLSV is an evolution of the old carrier rocket PSLV with the addition of liquid propellant boosters and above all a fourth cryogenic stage. The development of the latter was complex and that’s the reason why this rocket is still in its experimental stage. The GSLV Mk. 3 rocket has a core stage that uses liquid propellant instead of solid, two very large solid propellant boosters and a cryogenic upper stage.

The way the GSLV Mk. 3 works during the launch is unusual, even compared to other Indians launchers. In fact, generally the first stage is the core stage, constituted by the lower part of the rocket and the possible booster used to ensure an extra thrust. In this case however the boosters are so big because they constitute the first stage and are the only ones to provide thrust at take-off and the first part of the flight. The core stage is the second stage so it’s not ignited at take-off but only after the exhaustion of the boosters fuel.

This was a suborbital test in which the upper stage that consists of the cryogenic stage wasn’t activated because it’s still under development. The delays with various launch failures of various versions of the previous GSLV model rocket caused a slowdown in the testing program of the GSLV Mk. 3. ISRO plans to complete and test the version of the cryogenic stage for the new carrier rocket during 2015.

Putting the GSLV Mk. 3 rocket into operation will enable India to launch satellites to geostationary orbit expanding the launch services offered by ISRO in a market that is very rich and expanding. However, stimulated by the rivalry with China, India has started developing a manned space program as well. For this reason, in this test the cargo was a CARE (Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment), a test vehicle of the orbital vehicle prototypes under development by ISRO to bring its astronauts in orbit.

The purpose was to test the systems for CARE’s reentry. This spaceship that looks similar to the American Mercury was slowed down by a parachute system to its splashdown in the Bay of Bengal. From this point of view, the test was similar to that of the Orion spacecraft carried out in recent days by NASA.

Now ISRO must complete the development of the cryogenic stage to be able to carry out a full test of the GSLV Mk. 3 rocket. Concerning the manned program, the situation is more complicated because it’s not clear when the necessary technologies will be ready. If things go well, the first Indian astronauts could fly in the next decade.

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