“…4, 3, 2, 1. PSLV C-37 with Cartosat-2 series spacecraft and 103 co-passengers nano satellites lifted off majestically on 15 February, 2017 at 9:28 hours IST from SDSC, Sriharikota, the spaceport of India.”
And with that announcement, India would go on to make a world record by successfully putting 104 satellites into orbit.
The launch took place in India’s “spaceport” Sriharikota, a spindle-shaped island on the East coast of Andhra Pradesh. It is the only spaceport in India from where satellites are launched.
The Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in Thiruvananthapuram is mainly used for launching sounding rockets for conducting upper atmospheric experiments. These rockets are small and go off to certain heights, which is less than 100 km; satellites on the other hand are launched into orbit.
It was in 1969 that Sriharikota, which houses the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSH) or Sriharikota High Altitude Range (SHAR), was chosen as a satellite launching station. The island covers an area of about 43,360 acres (175 sq.km) with a coastline of 50 km.
So, what makes Sriharikota an ideal launch pad?
Several factors were taken into consideration while selecting Sriharikota as India’s satellite launch pad, Deviprasad Karnik, Director, Publication and Public Relations, ISRO, explained to The News Minute.
1. Near the sea
Once a rocket ignites and lifts off, there’s not much control over it even if it deviates from its set path or does not follow its trajectory.
If such a situation however occurs, a destruct command is given out. This command destroys or completely disintegrates the rocket and makes it fall into the sea.
“If there is no such provision, the rocket can fall on land causing massive destruction. So, places near the sea or desert, with no habitation, are chosen as space ports as a measure of protection,” Karnik says.
Surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and Pulicat lake, Sriharikota makes for an ideal launch pad.
2. Near to the Equator
If the launch location is near to the Equator, a lot of fuel can be saved. The Equator falls towards the south in India- along with the country also having a 7,500km long coast line- and so several places in the southern region of India could be convenient for setting up a launching centre, Karnik says.
Further simplifying it, he adds, “For example, let’s say, if I had to go to Delhi, travelling from Gujarat would take less time than from Bangalore, thus saving fuel.”
3. Stable geographical platform
The landmass available should be should be solid enough to withstand the intense vibrations produced during the launch. “The soil should be strong, with hard rock below it, just like in Sriharikota,” he says.
While these are some of the most important criteria that need to be kept in mind while zeroing in on a spaceport location, Karnik says there are several other smaller considerations, like the geo-magnetic fields and climate, that also play a role in the decision-making.
Over the years, ISRO has had 60 tech-development launches, 87 Indian space craft launches, 8 student satellite launches, 2 re-entry missions and 180 foreign satellites- from 23 countries- lift-offs from Sriharikota.
Some reports state that Sriharikota is the second-best located spaceport in the world, after the Kennedy Space Center in the United States. But according to Karnik, all such sites have their risks and benefits balanced.
“The French Guiana Space Center is right across the Equator and so they save up on fuel, whereas the space center in Russia, though in the north, has the advantage of massive deserts,” he says.