India's 20-Minute Space Mission is a Big Deal

(Vishnu Som is a senior anchor and editor of documentaries and special programs at NDTV.)

India's biggest rocket, the LV M3 blasted off from Sriharikota precisely at 9:30 am on Thursday morning, a mission that enables the Indian Space Research Organisation to continue to plan big.  

Thursday's launch of a new powerful rocket system means India can plan serious deep space missions in the future. Thursday's success comes a few months after ISRO surprised the international space community by placing a satellite into Mars orbit in its very first attempt, something not achieved by any other nation.

(The unmanned crew module that travelled on the GSLV Mark III)

ISRO now has its sights firmly on a manned Indian space mission and the LV M3 on Thursday carried the prototype of India's unmanned crew module, which could ultimately carry 3 Indian astronauts to space if the government clears a 12,500 crore budget for a manned mission.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the test mission as "yet another triumph of (the) brilliance and hard work of our scientists" and the Chairman of ISRO, Dr K Radhakrishnan said, "This was a very significant day in the history of (the) Indian space programme" as his fellow scientists and engineers cheered on at the Mission Control Centre at Sriharikota.

(The GSLV Mark III ready for launch at Sriharikota)

Thursday's mission lasted approximately 20 minutes and culminated in the successful splashdown of the crew module into the Bay of Bengal. Not only had the crew module separated successfully from the LV M3 rocket, its heat shield withstood the high temperatures of atmospheric reentry, its parachutes deployed correctly and in sequence, and its speed was successfully retarded as it made a successful splashdown in the Bay of Bengal off the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

It will still take another two years for the LV M3 rocket to be fully operational. One of the motors being carried onboard the rocket on Thursday was in fact a dummy of India's largest ever cryogenic engine, which is still being developed and will need to be flight tested in future missions. In the immediate run, the new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying 4 tonnes, is a boost for India's attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market.

With Thursday's successful mission, India has a brand new heavy launch rocket and a working crew module. Though many more tests are required, Thursday's mission has meant that an Indian manned mission to deep space may not have to remain a dream.

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