The 28 hour countdown for the launch of Isro’s GSLV-F09 mission has began at 12:57 PM on 4 May. AT 4:57 PM today, the GLSV-F09 is scheduled to blast off from the second launch pad at the Sriharikota High Altitude Range (SHAR) in Andhra Pradesh, a facility also known as the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

Image: Isro
From left to right, the GSLV-F09 at the vehicle assembly building, the rocket on its way to the launch pad, and the strap on boosters being integrated with the first stage of the rocket. Image: Isro

The satellite is a dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known to be a space buff. Modi has conceived the idea and has kept working on it over a course of three years.

The GSat-09. Image: Isro.
The GSat-09 with panels and antenna closed. Image: Isro.

On 30 June, 2014, just four weeks after coming into power and witnessing the successful launch of five satellites on board the PSLV-c23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Isro scientists. “The space community is to take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite that we can dedicate to our neighbourhood as a gift from India,” he said. “I believe that the fight against the poverty of the countries of SAARC is the fight against illiteracy, the fight against superstition. The challenge of moving forward in the scientific field is the possibility of providing opportunities to young people of SAARC countries. Our dream of this SAARC Satellite will work in the welfare of all our neighbouring countries. And that is why I have proposed in front of you today that we offer a valuable gift to our SAARC countries through a SAARC Satellite launch so that we also become partners in their welfare.”

The GSat-09 as it will appear after deployment. Image: Isro.
The GSat-09 as it will appear after deployment. Image: Isro.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi then unveiled plans for the launch of the communications satellite on November 2014 at a SAARC summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. The satellite was meant to be a gift to the neighbours of India. “India’s gift of a satellite for the SAARC region will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication. “We will also host a conference in India for all South Asian partners next year, to strengthen our collective ability to apply space technology in economic development and governance. And, we plan to launch our satellite by the SAARC Day in 2016,” Modi said.

The GSat-09 undergoing a thermovac test. Image: Isro.
The GSat-09 undergoing a thermal vacuum chamber test to ensure that it works perfectly in space. Image: Isro.

The 8 December launch would have been a symbolic day to launch the SAARC satellite, but it was not to be because of one country that played spoilsport, that Modi had included in the project despite hostile relations with India. You can guess which country that was.

Solar panel deployment test of the GSat-09. Image: Isro.
Solar panel deployment test of the GSat-09. Image: Isro.

The initiative is seen as an effort in space diplomacy, but Pakistan tried to sabotage the effort, raised unreasonable objections, and opted out of the project. The SAARC satellite was then renamed as the “South Asia Satellite”, and the launch date postponed to March 2017. There were further delays, and the final launch date has been set to 5 May.

The GSat-09 at a cleanroom Image: Isro
The GSat-09 at a cleanroom Image: Isro

Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all part of the initiative. Bangladesh was one of the latest to ink an agreement with India. The Indian High commission has said, “This satellite is a reflection of India’s commitment to the development of the South Asian region and an expression to share its expertise and technology for the benefit of the region.” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay has indicated that India is opening its heart out to its neighbours. “Neighbourhood first is now being extended beyond the stratosphere,” he said.

The GSat-09 undergoing acoustic tests. Image: Isro.
The GSat-09 undergoing acoustic tests. Image: Isro.

Pleasing China was one of the reasons Pakistan opted out of the satellite, but the Chinese state run daily newspaper, the Global Times has praised the effort. “The effort that the Modi administration has made in providing satellite services to South Asian countries is worth praising, but China should not be excluded from New Delhi’s recent moves toward strengthening space cooperation with neighbours. Further opening up of the two countries’ space industries is worth consideration because normal bilateral cooperation could help the two nations make breakthroughs in space technology. Additionally, Beijing and New Delhi could take advantage of multilateral platforms to boost cooperation” it said.

The GSAT-09 with two halves of the payload fairing. Image: Isro.
The GSAT-09 with two halves of the payload fairing. Image: Isro.

On 30 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on All India Radio with his “Mann ki Baat” address. Towards the end of the talk, the Prime Minister spoke about the South Asia Satellite. “My dear countrymen, India has always advanced on the path of progress in the spirit of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas… inclusive development for all. And when we say Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, it is not limited to the confines of India. It applies to the global context too. And very specially to our neighbouring countries. May our neighbouring countries be with us in our journey, may they develop equally. There are many projects under way. On the 5th of May, India will launch the South Asia Satellite. The capacities of this satellite and the facilities it provides will go a long way in addressing South Asia’s economic and developmental priorities. Natural resources mapping, tele medicine, the field of education, deeper IT connectivity or fostering people to people contact — this satellite will prove to be a boon in the progress of the entire region. It is an important step by India to enhance co-operation with the entire South Asia… it is an invaluable gift. This is an appropriate example of our commitment towards South Asia. I welcome all the South Asian countries who have joined us on the South Asia Satellite in this momentous endeavour… My best wishes to them,” he said.

The GSat-09 enclosed within the heat shield. Image: Isro.
The GSat-09 enclosed within the heat shield. Image: Isro.

The South Asia Satellite is an initiative that is unprecedented among space faring countries. All other consortia for regional co-operations are on a commercial basis. Prashant Agarwal, an IIT Kanpur-trained engineer and the point-person in the Ministry of External Affairs piloting the project, says, “Prime Minister Modi has actually extended his slogan Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas to India’s neighbourhood, essentially to service the needs of the poor in South Asia.”

Nozzle End Segment of GSLV-F09 Core Stage being placed on the Mobile Launch Pedestal. Image: Isro.
Nozzle End Segment of GSLV-F09 Core Stage being placed on the Mobile Launch Pedestal. Image: Isro.

The South Asia Satellite is a 2 ton class satellite, and has a lift off mass of 2230 kg, with 12 Ku band transponders (36 Mhz each) on board. The Ku band is the name for a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, in the microwave range of frequencies. Each participating country will have at least one dedicated transponder for its own use. There could potentially be common South Asia programming broadcast from the satellite as well. The content generation and use of the transponders is the prerogative of each participating country. Apart from the use cases mentioned by the Prime Minister, the satellite will also be used for forming inter-government networks, communications in emergency situations, television broadcasts and providing DTH services.

Isro workers preparing the first stage of the rocket for launch. Image: Isro.
Isro workers preparing the first stage of the rocket for launch. Image: Isro.

Unlike the previous record setting launch of 104 satellites from aboard the PSLV-C37, there is a single passenger on board, the GSat-9, which is known as the “South Asia Satellite.” The launch vehicle itself is known as “naughty boy”, whereas the PSLV has the moniker “workhorse rocket of Isro.” There aren’t multiple passengers on board this GLSV launch because the vehicle is taking a payload into the geosynchronous transfer orbit. The orbit is too high for nanosatellites and CubeSats, which are a class of much smaller satellites that were packed into a single PSLV rocket.

The crygogenic upper stage of the rocket is Made in India. Image: Isro.
The crygogenic upper stage of the rocket is Made in India. Image: Isro.

The satellite has on board an electric propulsion system, which will allow Isro to save costs. The planned mission duration of the South Asia Satellite is 12 years, but knowing Isro, the duration is likely to be extended further. GSLV stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, and it has three stages. The solid and liquid propellant stages are adopted from the PSLV. The first stage has a solid propellant core with the four strap on boosters having liquid propellant. The second stage has a single engine with liquid propellant and the third is a cryogenic stage with 12 tons of propellant. The GSLV is a two ton class launch vehicle, stands 49 meters tall, has a diameter of 2.8 meters, and it weighs 416 tons at launch.

The fully integrated GSLV at SHAR with the GSat-09 on board. Image: Isro.
The fully integrated GSLV at SHAR with the GSat-09 on board. Image: Isro.

Doordarshan is expected to telecast the launch operations live, with a pre-launch program that is likely to explain details about the satellite and the launch vehicle. A live web stream of the launch is usually available on the Doordarshan National YouTube channel. The TV schedule for today (PDF), however does not contain a listing for the launch. The blog of a reporter from The Hindu, Prasad Ravindranath, there will be no media presence at the launch, Isro will not be broadcasting the launch Live, and no information will be forthcoming till after the successful launch.

Publish date: May 5, 2017 1:16 pm| Modified date: May 5, 2017 3:51 pm

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