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India stuns the world

On a sunny Monday morning, India demonstrated to the world its capacity to launch 1,200-kg-class satellites with the successful blast-off of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C1.

The 44.4-metre-tall vehicle, weighing 294 tonnes, blasted off at 1017 hours, three minutes before the appointed time, from Sriharikota .

After the flawless take-off, the giant vehicle traced its trajectory with textbook precision and placed the indigenous remote-sensing satellite IRS-1D in a polar sun-synchronous orbit at 817 km, 18.14 minutes after the blast-off.

The successful mission ended the Indian Space Research Organisation's dependence on Russia and the European Space Agency's vehicles to launch the IRS satellites.

Watched by Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, ISRO Chairman Dr K Kasturirangan, his predecessor, Professor U R Rao and a host of other scientists from the Mission Control Centre, the vehicle raced skywards to its predetermined path.

The scientists and dignitaries who included Tamil Nadu Governor Justice M Fathima Beevi and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, joined by hundreds of SHAR employees and their children, broke into applause as the vehicle lifted off leaving a trail of flames and smoke.

The ignition and separation of all the four stages, comprising solid and liquid propellants at alternate stages, went on perfectly as per the schedule.

While the vehicle's four strap-on motors ignited when it blasted off, the remaining two ignited about 25 seconds later as scheduled, according to the ISRO.

As for the flight sequence, the first set of four strap-on motors separated at 90 seconds. The first stage separated at 11seconds and the second stage ignition occurred immediately.

The heat shield was jettisoned at 159 seconds as planned at an altitude of about 128 km after the launch vehicle had cleared the dense atmosphere.

The second stage separation and the third stage ignition occurred at 282 seconds and the third stage separated at 501 seconds after the lift-off. The fourth and last stage ignited after a long coasting at 602 seconds and it got cut-off at 1037 seconds, followed by the injection of IRS-1D into the orbit.

The closed-loop guidance system came into effect at about 168 seconds after lift-off as planned and guided the vehicle till the satellite was injected into space. The spacecraft was placed in orbit in a three-axis stabilised mode with guided injection.

It is a historic moment, a beaming Gujral said after the launch. He congratulated Dr Kasturirangan and his colleagues on behalf of the entire nation for having accomplished a great thing.

''This is a magnificent achievement and the success of the PSLV-C1 is a major step towards our goal of self-reliance,'' said President K R Narayanan.

''It is a significant event in the PSLV launch mission,'' Dr Kasturirangan said.

The PSLV became operational just after the success of two developmental flights.

Monday's success will be followed by three more continuation flights, all of which would be operational missions.

This will also be the launch pad for the much more important mission of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle, which is scheduled for the third quarter of next year, according to Dr Kasturirangan.

An ISRO spokesman told the Rediff On The NeT that the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, which developed the launch vehicle, is confident of launching satellites in an orbit about 36,000 km from the earth in the next two years -- a feat achieved by only a few developed countries.

Dr Manoranjan Rao, who recently retired from the VSSC, said the success was significant as the launch vehicle comprised a four-stage rocket, including a liquid phase. Dr S Ramakrishnan, who heads the PSLV project, was not available for comment.

VSSC General Manager Dr A V Hanumantha Rao said the launch proves that India can compete with the developed nations. ''India will be able to launch men into the space and can have its own space station within five to 10 years,'' he said.

Shortly after separation from the vehicle, the solar array of the satellite was deployed automatically by an on-board sequencer.

The ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network station at Mauritius monitored the event. According to ISRO, the 1,200-kg IRS-1D was performing normally.

The satellite is being monitored and controlled from ISTRAC's spacecraft control centre with a network of stations at Bangalore and Lucknow in India and also from Mauritius.

External ground station at Bearslake near Moscow, Weilheim in Germany and Pockerflat in the US are providing health monitoring as well as tracking support. The data from IRS-1D will be received and processed by the National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad. India today has the largest constellation of civilian remote sensing satellites.

D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram with UNI reports

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