ISRO plans to revolutionize space travel with advanced launch vehicles

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The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), known for its cost-effective and reliable space missions, is all set to take a major step forward with its upcoming advanced launch vehicles. These developments promise to improve payload capabilities and introduce reusability, heralding a new era in space exploration and satellite deployment.

Before delving into the technological advancements of these launch vehicles, it is important to understand what happens during a satellite launch. The process begins with a rocket, consisting of various components such as the payload (satellite), propulsion modules (fuel tanks and engines) and multiple stages designed to separate during ascent. As the rocket's engines fire, it rises, reducing weight by eliminating steps spent in a process called staging. This action allows the rest of the rocket to accelerate further. The satellite, housed inside a fairing (a protective nose cone), is protected from atmospheric drag and heat. Once the rocket reaches the edge of space, the fairing is discarded, exposing the satellite. After reaching the desired orbit, the satellite is carefully released from the final stage of the rocket, ensuring its precise deployment along the intended orbital path. This procedural sequence is critical for the successful placement and operation of a satellite in space.

One of the key upgrades is LVM3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3), ISRO's heavy-lift launch vehicle. It was the launch vehicle that successfully took Chandrayaan 3 to the Moon's South Pole. LVM3's current payload capacity is 4 tons to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and an impressive 8 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). With the introduction of a semi-cryogenic engine called the SC120, payload capacity is set to increase further, increasing LVM3's ability to meet the needs of the growing global commercial launch service market. This advancement is in line with the space sector reforms announced by the Government of India, empowering and enabling Indian industries in the end-to-end manufacturing of space vehicles.

As part of ISRO's commitment to remain competitive and relevant in the market, a public-private partnership model was initiated with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL). The collaboration aims to manufacture LVM3, addressing the global demand for communication satellites and mega constellations in LEO. The upgradation of LVM3 provides great potential and opportunity to capture this niche market in the coming years, strengthening ISRO's position as a leader in space technology innovation.

Further boosting the LVM3 is a new uprated cryogenic engine, the C32, which contributes to a payload mass gain of 484 kg. When combined with the SC120, this upgrade increases the LVM3's capacity, allowing the GTO to haul an impressive 5.1 tonnes. This represents a significant increase from its current capability, positioning ISRO as a competitive player in the global space arena.

In another important development, ISRO focused on the LM110 LOX-methane engine. Known as 'softcreo' engines, these are designed to be throttleable between 60 to 110%. This feature provides better control and efficiency, critical for precision satellite deployments and interplanetary missions. LM110 engines are designed not only for efficiency but also with reusability in mind. They are expected to be reusable up to 20 times, which is in line with global trends in space technology, emphasizing sustainable and cost-effective space exploration.

The design of the LM110 is optimized for recovery and reuse, integrating advanced manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing. This approach is in line with ISRO's vision of developing cutting-edge and environmentally conscious technology.

Looking ahead, ISRO is also conceptualizing the Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV). This ambitious project includes a LOX methane common core booster with clustered engines, meaning more than one engine will be used in this phase, with solid strap-on boosters.

The NGLV is proposed to have different variants, serving a range of mission requirements. These have a 17-ton payload capacity for 500 km Low Earth Orbit (LEO), scaling up to a whopping 48.01 tons for LEO, in its expendable version. Renewable versions of the NGLV with capacities of 18.825 tonnes and 28.39 tonnes to LEO are also in the works. For missions to geostationary transfer orbit, a 9.5-tonne payload capacity is proposed in an expendable variant.

These advancements highlight ISRO's commitment to push the frontiers of space technology. The introduction of these improved launch vehicles was not just a technological achievement, but also a strategic move. This has positioned ISRO as an important player in the global space industry, capable of undertaking more ambitious missions, including planetary explorations and advanced satellite deployments.

As these launch vehicle developments unfold, ISRO continues to solidify its position as a world leader in space technology, paving the way for a future where space is more accessible and limitless to exploration.

(By Manish Purohit. The author is a solar energy and spacecraft solar panel expert with extensive experience in conducting critical space missions including Chandrayaan-2 and Mangalyaan. His expertise in solar panel manufacturing, technology implementation and cost-effective solutions has been instrumental in developing successful space exploration and solar energy programs. With a proven track record of projects and technology development, he continues to be a driving force in the field of renewable energy and space technology.

(Twitter: @purohitmanish)

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