Indian Space Agency Envisions Developing A Super-Heavy Launch Vehicle With Lifting Capability Of 50-60 Tons

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On February 6, 2018, the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket gave scientists and technology buffs around the world a reason to smile and cheer. Falcon Heavy blasted off from the launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and embarked on a journey towards Mars, also carrying with it Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster and its dummy driver Starman.

The privately-funded Falcon Heavy is now the world’s most powerful rocket with a cargo-carrying capacity of 63 tons. The first stage of Falcon Heavy is composed of three boosters with 27 engines that generate approximately 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off. The rocket, with its reusable stages, is much cheaper to build compared to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The success of the Falcon Heavy has come up as a huge motivation for other international space agencies, including the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), whose chairman Dr. K Sivan recently described Falcon Heavy’s successful launch as “a quantum leap in space technology.” Dr. Sivan also congratulated Elon Musk on this “wonderful and innovative feat.”

In an interview with the Times of India, Dr. Sivan said ISRO envisions building a super-heavy launch vehicle that would be able to carry payloads of 50-60 tons.

“A super heavy-lift vehicle is on the drawing board as part of our R&D. We are doing a lot of preliminary research,” Dr. Sivan told the Times of India.

ISRO is currently working on the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III, which would be able to lift eight tons of cargo to lower orbits and four tons to higher orbits. According to Dr. Sivan, ISRO scientists are currently working to enhance the lifting capability of the GSLV MK III launch vehicle from 4 tons to 6 tons. Increasing this capability would enable the Indian space agency to launch heavier satellites using its own launch vehicle. Currently, India has to rely on the European Space Agency for the launch of its heavier satellites.

“Our foremost priority is to increase the lifting capability of GSLV MK III from 4 tons to 6 tons. Once that is achieved, we will work on enhancing the propulsion capability by working on different combinations of solid, liquid, semi-cryogenic and cryogenic engines. With these combinations of engines and different modes of strap-ons, we can configure a launch vehicle that has the lifting capability of over 50-60 tons.”

According to Dr. Sivan, this launch vehicle would be a single, two-stage vehicle that would satisfy all demands.

However, ISRO scientists very well know that it is not such an easy feat to accomplish, and they need to do a lot of work before being able to develop this technology.

Currently, ISRO is also trying to develop the reusable rocket technology to cut space mission costs, according to the Times of India. Indian scientists are simultaneously working on three different technologies: one, the orbital re-entry of the launch vehicle, two, the landing of the reusable vehicle on an airstrip, and three, reusable rocket stages. The first test of the reusable launch vehicle was carried out in 2016, and ISRO plans to conduct the second technology demonstrator test within next two years.