Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has turned out to be the most trusted and reliable satellite carrier of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). It has not just launched 209 satellites of 28 countries since May 1999, the vehicle has also placed 48 Indian satellites in their respective orbits till now.

After its first copybook launch in October 1994, PSLV has built a reputation of being a highly versatile spacecraft with 39 consecutive successful missions till June this year.

Among all foreign satellites launched by the PSLV till now, the heaviest so far was the 400kg TeLEOS earth observation satellite of Singapore on December 16, 2015. Among the others heavyweights hauled to space by the PSLV are Italy’s Agile satellite (352kg), equipped with scientific instruments on April 23, 2007 and Israel’s reconnaissance (spy) satellite TecSAR (295 kg) on January 21, 2008.

The vehicle has been a commercial hit earning the space agency global fame for several landmark missions. The vehicle was used for launching the cost-effective Chandrayaan-1 (lunar) mission in 2008 and Mars mission in 2013.

Speaking to TOI on PSLV’s track record, Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar said, “We are progressively trying to improve PSLV’s features and capabilties with each launch. Today with ability to provide multiple capabilities, it has attracted the attention of many satellite operators and they are looking for an opportunity to make use of PSLV for their launch.” The chairman said, “PSLV has been very versatile as it has launched satellites in lower orbit, geo-stationary transfer orbit, lunar orbit and also Mars orbit.”

With the successful Mars mission, India became the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet and accomplished the mission in the first attempt itself. Several countries, including China, supposedly more advanced than India, had attempted the Mars mission but failed. In February this year, PSLV achieved another milestone when it (PSLV C37) made history by placing a record 104 satellites in their desired orbits, breaking the previous record held by Russia (37 satellites) and the earlier record of the US (29).

Launching dozens of satellites in different orbital slots is an extremely complex manoeuvre. However, PSLV proved its mettle. The vehicle’s latest multiple launch was on June 23 this year when PSLV C8 carried with it India’s surveillance satellite Cartosat-2E along with 29 nano foreign satellites.

PSLV was originally developed by Isro to launch Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites. However later, it was used for a variety of missions. The vehicle launched different kinds of satellites, including surveillance satellites like Cartosats, the country’s first multi-wavelength space observatory Astrosat and navigation satellites (IRNSS). Known for charting an incredible trajectory, PSLV is, therefore, called the workhorse of Isro’s space programmes.

The PSLV was first launched on September 20, 1993. The first and second stages performed as expected, but an altitude control problem led to the collision of the second and third stages at separation, and the payload failed to reach the desired orbit.

Dr K Sivan, director of Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre told TOI, “The first launch of PSLV in 1993 was unsuccessful. However, data collected from this failed mission was used to take all corrective measures for subsequent missions. After the 1993 setback, PSLV has never seen failure as all subsequent launches till now have been successful. Proving its versatility, PSLV had carried payloads not only to the low-earth orbit (350-400 km altitude) but also to the furthest Mars orbit (Mangalyaan travelled 650 crore km from the Earth for over 300 days to reach the Red Planet’s orbit).”
“PSLV, however, will not be used for Chandrayaan-2 as Isro is planning a heavier payload carrying a lunar rover to Chandrayaan this time. Therefore, GSLV is the preferred choice. But PSLV is definitely being readied for the Aditya mission (solar mission in 2019),” Dr Sivan added.

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