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Explained: ISRO's new series of heavy lift rockets

Tulika Tandon

Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO is working on a fleet of five new rockets. As per a senior official, the five Heavy lift Launch Vehicles (HLV) are in their project report stage.  This new fleet of rockets are quite similar to the existing SSLV, PSLV and GSLV, GSLV Mk3 in terms of design and appearance. They would be powered by more capable and powerful engines  that would be technologically advanced. 

At present India uses the services of Ariane-5 which is a foreign rocket to launch satellites that weigh over 4 tonnes. 

ISRO's Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles: Recent Updates

Recently ISRO organised a virtual event in which Sudheer Kumar the Director of the Capacity building programme said that the new fleet's variants of heavy rockets would carry payload weighing between 4.9 tons to 16 tonnes. It would be placed in Geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

Currently the maximum lift capacity happens to be of 4 tonnes that GSLV Mk3 rocket has performed to GTO. 

"Soon the stage will be inducted into the rocket, then we will not depend on foreign sources for the launch of heavy communication satellites (weighing over 4 or 5 tonnes)," Kumar said.

What is GTO?

GTO is an intermediate orbit which is 180 km at the closest point to the Earth and 36000 km at the farthest point from the planet. 

It is the orbit into which the satellites are launched by the rockets. It is known as Geostationary Synchronous orbit as it is at the same distance from Earth at any point of time and in a circular orbit in a 36000 km range. 

The distance allows it to provide for communication and monitoring of a large portion of the Earth. 

It is known that only three satellites in the geosynchronous orbit are capable of covering the entire globe. 

Kumar also informed that the task to upgrade the lift capacity of GSLV Mk3 to 7.5 tonnes GTO is almost complete. This major upgrade is being made as two kinds of rocket engines are being introduced

i) Semi-cryogenic engine: This engine would burn a special variant of kerosene which is dubbed ISROsene along with liquid oxygen. This engine's stage is dubbed as the SC120.

ii) Cryogenic engine that burns a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Its stage is dubbed as the C32 stage. 

ISRO's naming convention: What stands for what?

In ISRO's terms used in rocket naming and missions

  1. 's' refers to the type of engine fuel
  2. 'S' stands for Solid
  3. 'L' stands for Liquid 
  4. 'SC' stands for Semi-cryogenic
  5. 'C' stands for Cryogenic 
  6. The number along with the above refers to the mass (in tonnes) of propellant that is carried with the rocket.

The Science behind the heavy lift rockets:

It would depend on the amount of payload that is to be carried. The new configurations refer to new and more powerful rocket stages - SC400 semi cryogenic stage, the C27 cryogenic stage and S250 solid rocket booster. Different variants of the engines would be used for different levels of payload. It would be like a relay race in the skies with each stage detaching from the rocket at a certain altitude. 

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