India excited over launching 104 satellites on a single rocket
本报驻印度、美国、新加坡特派特约记者 邹松 李勇 辛斌 。本报记者 杨檬。魏辉
By Zou Song, Li Yong and Xin Bin, special correspondents of Global Times in India, U.S. and Singapore; and Yang Meng and Wei Hui, staff reporters of Global Times
“India finally made history”, “India embraces a moment of honor”… On February 15th, the Indian Space Research Organisation (hereinafter referred to as ISRO) succeeded in carrying 104 satellites with one carrier rocket. A strong sense of national pride soon mounted in the public opinion field of India. Russia had held the record earlier, for the most satellite launches in a single mission and the number was 37, which was broke by India with this achievement. As a matter of fact, apart from outdoing its own previous achievements, has also moved ahead of Russia by a long margin. President of India Pranab Mukherjee said: “The nation is proud of this significant achievement.” And Prime Minister Modi praised that as “a proud moment of the nation”. Soon after, “world record” became a buzz word of the social media in India. As a matter of fact, a number of countries – including China – have already a good command of the technology of sending multiple satellites with one single carrier rocket, and none of them attach too much importance to the number of satellites. What is the significance of India’s “breakthrough” this time? The analysts observed the fact that India managed to set the new record thanks to the fact that the satellites launched by the carrier rocket are relatively smaller in size, as all 104 of them combine a total weight of less than 1.4 tons. By comparison, the Tiangong 2 launched by China last year weighed 8.6 tons, although there are differences with the orbit altitudes of them. “India is not yet the strongest one in Asia with regard to aerospace technology,” the Financial Times (U.K.) thus quotes from a space scientist, “people often speak of the space race in Asia, but it only takes careful observations to discover that China has evidently stronger space program.”
The “Moment of Honor” for India
India scripted a new chapter in the history of space exploration on Wednesday with the successful launch of a record 104 satellites+ by Isro’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in a single mission. According to the report of The Times of India, PSLV-C37 carrying the 104 satellites lifted off from the first launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 9.28am. According to the report of The Times of India, it was the 39th flight of PSLV-C37. 17 minutes later, the rocket started to put the satellite into their own orbit in succession, and the entire process of releasing lasted for around 11 minutes. When the success of the project was announced by the director of ISRO, the space center was soon submerged by huge applauses and tides of cheers.
“World record set with PSLV launch of 104 satellites: ISRO, India is proud of you.” The official website of The Financial Express (India) published an editorial immediately after the successful launching, saying that India, apart from outdoing its own previous achievements, has also moved ahead of Russia by a long margin. Russia had held the record earlier, for the most satellite launches in a single mission and the number was 37. Russia had achieved that feat in 2014. This record is followed by the US space agency NASA, which has launched 29 satellites in a single mission. The report of NDTV says that India finally makes history with this achievement. In this launching project defined as “the extraordinary move of India’s space project” the PSLV-C37 rocket is undoubtedly the bright star among all. The rocket carried all satellites into the space with a speed of 27 thousand kilometers per hour, which is 40 times the speed of regular airplane flight. It is another marvelous achievement following the successful launch of 23 satellites by ISRO in June of 2015.
The political leaders of India sent their congratulations in succession. President of India Pranab Mukherjee said: “This day shall go down as a landmark in the history of our space programme. The nation is proud of this significant achievement, which has demonstrated, yet again, India’s increasing space capabilities.” Prime Minister Modi even tweeted for multiple times, praising ISRO’s feat as “a proud moment of the nation”. He tweeted: “This remarkable feat by ISRO is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists.”
Soon after, “world record” became a buzz word among the twitter users in India. Oneindia.com, an online portal of India, claims that February 15th marks “a historic day” for all Indians, as they – from the Prime Minister himself to the ordinary people – are celebrating the monumental achievement of ISRO. Bathed in the “moment of honor” in the history of India, the Indian netizens didn’t forget to ridicule Pakistan, India’s archenemy. They claimed that the two countries gained independence at almost the same time of last century, but one of them has already succeeded in launching a satellite into the space, while the other “only send terrorists across the globe”.
The 104 satellites launched into the space by India this time include Cartosat-2, an earth observation satellite weighing over 700 kilograms, which is the only relatively large satellite among all 104 of them. The rest are mostly “Nanometer Satellites” of relatively smaller size, and they altogether weigh 664 kilograms, with the smallest one weighing only 1.1 kilograms. 96 of the satellites are for the clients of U.S., and other clients are from Israel, Kazakhstan, Netherland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. According to the report of BBC, Carto⁃sat-2 is an earth observation satellite with the function of taking photos of high definition, which will be used to monitor the situations in Pakistan and China. The report of New York Times quotes the twitter of a right winger in India, who claimed “come and see, China and Pakistan, such is our strength”.
The report of Business Standard (India) says that with ISRO’s historic feat of hurling 104 satellites in one go, a record by any space agency, is set to open up a global opportunity and make India a one-stop shop for building and hurling micro satellites. Over the next five years, over 3,000 such satellites with sizes varying from a small shoebox to a 24-inch television set and weighing one kg to 50 kg are expected to be built and launched by various players, according to SpaceWorks Inc, a US space industry researcher. These satellites will also be used for the track of weather condition, navigation on the sea as well as high-speed internet connections in the remote areas, etc. According to the report of The Financial Express (India), space scientists note that the number of satellites launched by a rocket in one mission is not comparable to scoring runs in cricket. But what is required is a lot of engineering innovations for stacking the tiny satellites in the available space and ejecting them sequentially in the desired orbits without colliding with each other, according to K. Sivan, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).
“ISRO’s record of innovation: Bullock cart to launching 180 foreign satellites” – such is the title of the report of Hindustan Times on April 15th. In 1981, when India’s space scientists grappled with the challenge of finding a metal-free transportable platform for its new satellite, they turned to an improbable frugal innovation. As the world watched amazed, Indian scientists wheeled out their gleaming, new satellite on a creaking, old bullock cart. More than three decades on, as Indian scientists successfully launched more than 100 nano satellites on a single rocket, creating what they said was a record, it was still, in part, the same amazing story of endless tweaking and recycling of delicate equipment to keep costs down and tide over technology constraints. To many, Wednesday’s triumph once again underlined the credibility of India’s space technology, despite the country’s antiquated industrial processes and manufacturing record, and the brilliance of its poorly paid scientists whose only reward, perhaps, is the collective national pride their work generates.
What is the significance of India’s recent achievement?
US space agency NASA succeeded in launching multiple satellites in a single mission in as early as 1960s. In 2015, China managed to launch a total of 2o satellites into the space with CZ-6 (Long March 6), making the record in the aerospace history among all Asian countries. And now, what is the significance of ISRO’s achievement of sending 104 satellites with one rocket this times?
Pang Zhihao, a research fellow of China Academy of Space Technology, said in an interview with the reporter of Global Times that ISRO’s achievement arouses huge political impact at the moment. The success would surely bring a step forward the launching technology of small satellite, and people will see more cases of launching multiple satellites into the space with one rocket in the near future. The lower the costs of launching, the lower the application costs of microsatellites. As a result, India is given substantial commercial benefits. Technologically, India has also achieved evident progress by solving a series of problems of launching multiple satellites, which are related to the distributor interface and sequential control, etc. The successful launch by ISRO is by no means a giant breakthrough in the aerospace sense, as the carrying capacity of the sun-synchronous orbit of the Indian rocket is no more than 1.75 tons, while that of CZ-4C of China exceeds 3 tons. Besides, the required orbital altitude of India’s launch is no so high, as the orbital altitude of these satellites are around 500 kilometers from the ground.
Pang Zhihao said that if the standards of the carrying capacity and the orbital altitude are raised enormously for the rocket launching, they’ll have to resort to the technology of “advanced upper stage”, a.k.a. the space shuttle. That’s quite like the shuttle buses at the airport, which carry the passengers to the cabin doors of different airplanes in accordance with their respective destinations. At the current stage, China has already a good command of such technology, and has already applied it in Yuanzheng 1 and Yuanzheng 2 last year.
One top space scientist, who was involved in the design process of Long March rocket family, told the reporter of Global Times that it is merely something “formal” that India succeeded in launching 104 satellites with one rocket at a single time. That is to say, there is no concrete proof that India has achieved much progress technologically. The key factors of launching satellites include the control capacity and the weight, etc. Launching microsatellites is relatively simple, as each of them weigh no more than a few kilograms, and it’s actually no different from a radio transmitter. If the weight of the satellite to be launched is not so enormous, and that there is only one orbit, it is not a difficult task at all. However, if there are more than one orbit, and each of the satellites weigh 200 to 300 kilograms, that task would be something marvelous if it is finally accomplished. “Speaking of carrier rocket, China is far more advanced than India in the technological sense. Judging by the control capacity and the feasibility of the technology, China is now only behind U.S. and Russia.”
No matter what, India has achieved tremendous progress with regard to its aerospace technology. In 2014, India successfully put a satellite named “the Mangalyaan robotic probe” into orbit around Mars, becoming the first Asian country to put a robotic probe into the orbit around Mars. The Indian government also lays great emphasis on the progress of aerospace technology, which is easily seen by all. In November of 2016, the Modi government declared a huge portion of the country’s currency null and void. Instead, they replaced the old ones with a new banknote of 2000 Indian rupees. On the positive side of the banknote is the image of Mahatma Gandhi, and on the back is the Mangalyaan robotic probe.
“Space odyssey: India plans trips to Venus, Mars.” The report of The Times of India on February 13th says that India plans to go to Venus for the first time and revisit the red planet, Mars, very soon. A formal acknowledgement by the government of these two bold inter-planetary sojourns is in the electronic budget documents. The mission to Mars is tentatively slated for 2021-22 and as per existing plans it may well involve putting a robot on the Martian surface. While India’s first Mars mission in 2013 was purely indigenous, the French space agency wants to collaborate in making the Mars rover. In the 2017 budget, funds for the department of space have been increased by 23%.Under the space sciences section, the budget mentions provisions “for Mars Orbiter Mission II and mission to Venus”. The report also adds that this Mars mission is likely to be all about doing good science since the first one had a nationalistic streak in it in trying to beat China to the orbit of Mars, which the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) did magnificently.
The foreign media are eyeing on the “new space race”
“China-India rivalry” is a spotlight that the Indian and western media love to hype. The report of CNN on February 15th, entitled “India in record satellite launch as Asia’s space race heats up”, says that India, China and Japan have all outlined bold space exploration plans for 2017 and beyond. The increasing competition for space-related power and prestige in Asia has echoes of the Cold War space race of the mid-20th century.
According to the report of Deutsche Welle, with U.S. and Russia slowing down their paces in developing their own space programs, China and India – the two most populated countries in the world and Asia’s new giants – are marching towards the space with even faster paces and have already achieved tremendous success. With the rises of China and India, the top tier of the “space club” is expanded, and huge progress is achieved in the endeavor of exploring the space. Morris Jones, an Australian space scientist, believed that India is still far behind China with regard to aerospace technology, although much progress is achieved recently. India is now neck and neck with China in the field of satellite technology, but there is no evident advancement in the fields of rocket technology and manned space flight.
The report of Financial Times (U.K.) on February 15th claims that although the Indian people feel extremely proud of the achievement of putting the robotic probe into the orbit of Mars ahead of China, India is not yet the strongest one in Asia with regard to aerospace technology. According to a senior research fellow of IDSA (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses) of India, China has far more advanced space programs than India, “larger, and more ambitious”. Actually, China is trying to compete with U.S. According to a prior report of the same newspaper, rather than making an attempt to compete in manned area flight — a discipline during which China has a head begin — it could be extra sensible for India to give attention to higher-performance satellites and probes. In the primary half of this 12 months, China is to launch its Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft — a stepping stone to transporting provides to the area station. Besides, the federal government revealed an area growth plan that includes missions to the moon and Mars. According to the article, BeiDou is already offering location info companies in 317 Chinese cities in China, and associated companies are anticipated to be value a complete of Rmb400bn ($58.1bn) by 2020. Plus, providing an alternative choice to the US-led GPS might strengthen China’s worldwide affect.
The above-mentioned space scientist, who insisted that his name not be revealed, told the reporter of Global Times that China is already a superpower in the realm of aerospace, and India cannot compete with China at the current stage. Therefore, there is no so-called “space race” between China and India. China is marching forward following her own paces to reach the target already set. ▲