First Flight of India’s Newest Rocket : PARTIAL SUCCESS : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Awareness in the fields of Space.

Key Phrases: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), EOS-02, AzaadiSAT, Earth observation micro-satellite, Space-based data, Starlink, OneWeb, Assembled on demand.

Why in News?

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrated the 75th anniversary of India's Independence with the maiden launch of its new rocket Small Satellite Launch Vehicle - Developmental Flight 1 (SSLV-D1).
  • The rocket finally embarked on its first flight, carrying two satellites, including an earth observation micro-satellite called EOS-02 and a student satellite AzaadiSAT.

Do you know?

  • SSLV is configured with three solid stages 87 t, 7.7 t, and 4.5 t.
  • The satellite insertion into the intended orbit is achieved through a liquid propulsion-based velocity trimming module.
  • SSLV is capable of launching Mini, Micro, or Nanosatellites (10 to 500 kg mass) to a 500 km planar orbit.
  • SSLV-D1 is a 34 m tall, 2 m diameter vehicle having a lift-off mass of 120 t.

Why has the mission failed?

  • After a successful lift-off and separation of its three stages, the flight deviated from its script.
  • SSLV-D1 placed the satellites into 356 km x 76 km elliptical orbit instead of 356 km circular orbit - 76 km is the lowest point close to the surface of the earth.
  • In such an orbit, the satellites would not stay for long and come back down.
  • The two satellites have already come down from that orbit and they are no longer usable.
  • The failure of the mission appears to have been the result of a faulty sensor.
  • The mechanism put in place to identify a sensor failure did not work and thereby, the launch vehicle failed to initiate a salvage action that would have made deviations.

Why is it considered a game changer?

  • It is a rocket that can be assembled within 72 hours by a team of just 5-6 people.
  • A rocket that costs at least one-tenth of those currently in use.
  • A rocket that can enable a space launch from India every week.
  • And, a rocket that caters specifically to the small and micro satellites that constitute over 90 percent of all satellites being launched these days.

Era of small satellites:

  • For a very long time, small satellites - anything weighing between 5 and 1,000 kg - have had to remain content with hitching a ride to space on rockets commissioned to carry some other, larger satellites.
  • The timeline of the launch used to be dictated by this larger, primary, satellite, whose interests would take precedence.
  • But with more and more businesses, government agencies, even universities, and laboratories beginning to send satellites - nearly all of them falling in this category of small satellites - to space, the constraints of a piggyback ride have started to hurt.
  • In fact, the demand for the launch of small satellites has increased at a rapid pace in the last eight to ten years, thanks to the ever-growing need for space-based data, communication, surveillance, and commerce.
  • Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of small satellites would be launched in the next ten years.
  • Satellite builders and operators, therefore, do not have the luxury to wait for months to get a berth on a rocket or of paying very high travel costs.
  • Increasingly, organizations are creating a constellation of satellites in space. Projects like Starlink of SpaceX or OneWeb are putting together a constellation of hundreds of satellites.
  • As a result, the demand for dedicated rockets that can be launched frequently, and can offer cheap rides to space, is growing.


  • AzaadiSAT is an 8U Cubesat weighing around 8 kg.
  • It carries 75 different payloads each weighing around 50 grams and conducts femto-experiments.
  • Girl students from rural regions across the country were guided to build these payloads.
  • The payloads are integrated by the student team of “Space Kidz India”.

Business Opportunity:

  • This is also a lucrative business opportunity for agencies with launching capability like ISRO because most of the demand comes from companies that are launching satellites for commercial purposes.
  • Several new players, both in the government as well as the private sector, have begun to offer launching services.
  • In India, where the space sector is fast being opened up for the private sector, at least three private companies are developing rockets that can launch small satellites into space.
  • It is to cater to this demand, and to grab this business opportunity, that ISRO has also developed the SSLV.

More launches:

  • In a good year, ISRO makes 5-6 launches with its PSLV and GSLV (Geospatial Satellite Launch Vehicles) rockets. These rockets typically take 70-80 days to assemble.
  • Dozens of people work on the assembly and each of these costs tens of millions of dollars.
  • Though many of these also carry commercial satellites, the revenue generated is not commensurate with the costs incurred.
  • The SSLV is meant to change all this. This rocket is supposed to have a quick turnaround time, usually less than three days.
  • It can be assembled on demand at short notice, and at a fraction of the cost of the existing launch vehicles.
  • The SSLV would have the capability to carry satellites weighing up to 500 kg to the lower earth orbits (up to altitudes of 1,000 km from the earth’s surface) which is one of the most sought-after places in space for positioning of satellites.
  • It is likely to drastically increase ISRO’s launch rate. ISRO is looking at 50 to 60 launches every year with the SSLV.
  • That would practically be one launch every week, a sharp contrast from the 2-3 launches every year that ISRO has been able to manage.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. In the era of small satellites, how can ISRO’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) prove to be a game changer? Discuss.