The GSLV Mk III, India's heaviest rocket, lifts off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
New Delhi: Trailing thick white smoke, India's monster home-made rocket GSLV Mk III did a perfect lift-off this afternoon from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The "Naughty boy" of Space Agency ISRO propels India into the big league of space technology. It is also expected to carry astronauts to space one day - perhaps in a little more than seven years. The 640-tonne rocket weighs as much as 200 full-grown Asian elephants or five Jumbo jets. Powered by the cutting-edge indigenously developed cryogenic engine, it was developed over 15 years, at a cost of RS 300 crore.
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The successful launch put to rest space agency ISRO's concerns, triggered by failures of several maiden flights. Three first launches - in 1979, 1993 and 2001 - had failed.
Only five of GSLV's 11 earlier launches had been successful - some of the rest ended up in the sea. Because of its repeated failures, the rocket had been dubbed the 'Naughty Boy'. Some even disparagingly said the abbreviation GSLV stands for a "Generally Sea Loving Vehicle".
In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists. "The GSLV - MKIII D1/GSAT-19 mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability. The nation is proud!" he tweeted.
Seventeen minutes into the launch, the rocket successfully placed the communications satellite GSAT-19 into orbit. The satellite weighs nearly 3,136 kg -- a landmark achievement as India had struggled to match the heavier payloads of other space giants.
The "monster rocket", as it is called, was developed over 15 years at a cost of Rs. 300 crore. It is as high as a 13-storey building and can launch satellites as heavy as 4 tonnes (4,000 kg).
The GSLV rocket is powered by a 25-ton cryogenic engine built indigenously. It took ISRO around two decades to develop this complex technology, which Russia had denied to India under US pressure. A cryogenic engine uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants. The liquids operate at very low temperatures, which make them tricky to operate.
The successful launch was another feather in the cap for scientists at ISRO, who won Asia's race to Mars in 2014 when an Indian spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoe-string budget. That feat carved out India's reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $67 million price tag drastically undercutting NASA's Maven Mars $671-million mission.
The ISRO has asked the Centre for Rs. 12,500 crore for its mission to put humans in space. If approved, the work is expected to take roughly seven years. The agency has already developed critical technologies for a human mission -- the space suit is ready and a crew module was tested in 2014.
India wants to become the fourth nation -- after Russia, the United States and China -- to put astronauts into orbit using homegrown technology but its human spaceflight programme has seen multiple stops and starts. ISRO has indicated that the first astronaut from India could well be a woman. ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Mars and Venus.
In February, India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014.