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2022: A year of many firsts for Indian space sector. Here's a recap

The two years of pandemic lull had disrupted several high-profile missions and launch activities of the Indian Space Programme. However, 2022 is a year when the Indian space sector recovered from the setbacks and also celebrated many well-deserved firsts. The calendar year 2022 witnessed five launch missions, as opposed to two missions each in 2020 and 2021. WION brings to you the highlights of the Indian space sector in 2022 and the pathbreaking developments.

The first launch mission of 2022 "PSLV--C52" was carried out on February 14th, to orbit the EOS-04 or Earth Observation satellite 4. It is a Radar Imaging Satellite designed to provide high-quality images under all weather conditions for applications such as Agriculture, Forestry & Plantations, Soil Moisture & Hydrology and Flood mapping etc. Weighing about 1710 kg, the satellite has a mission life of 10 years.

The second launch mission of 2022 was executed on June 30th and it was done on a commercial basis for orbiting three satellites from Singapore. Dubbed "PSLV-C53", for the first-ever time the mission also demonstrated the use of the final stage of the rocket as an orbiting experimental platform or PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM). Generally, the fourth stage of the rocket ends up as space debris and this "POEM" method ensures better utilization of an in-space resource, by helping conduct onboard experiments. Notably, this mission also marked a return to normalcy, as ISRO permitted journalists to report on the launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre after a two-year-long COVID-induced break.

In the third mission of the year, the Indian space agency was attempting to launch its all-new rocket - Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). SSLV is a three-stage rocket that is powered by solid fuels alone, thus making it relatively simpler and faster to manufacture, assemble and launch. It is the fourth in the series of India's operational launch vehicles and this rocket is aimed at offering launch-on-demand services. While the rocket performed its role of injecting the satellites in orbit, a software error in the rocket (as determined by preliminary analysis) caused the satellites to be ejected in an unsustainable orbit. This meant that the ejected satellites were lost and the mission was unsuccessful.

On October 23rd, ahead of the festival of lights Diwali, ISRO launched India's heaviest rocket- LVM3 or GSLV Mk3 and the rocket carried its heaviest-ever payload. It was the first-ever commercial flight of the rocket, which has only been performing India's national missions since its maiden launch in 2017. 36 Internet communication satellites(weighing a total of approximately six tonnes) of UK-based firm OneWeb were launched successfully in Low Earth orbit by the LVM3. This marked a significant milestone as the LVM3 delivered successes in all five of its launches thus far. This mission and its follow-up launch will bring in Rs.1000cr in revenue to NSIL, which is ISRO's commercial arm.

ISRO's final launch of the calendar year 2022 was the PSLV C54, which carried India's OceanSat or EOS-06 and a passenger satellite known as BhutanSat. This mission also carried satellites built by Indian start-ups and foreign customers.

HAL-L&T, a consortium of Government-run and privately-run Indian firms won the contract to build five PSLV rockets. This enables the industry to carry out the end-to-end production of a rocket that has been the mainstay of India's space launch activity. The consortium bagged the Rs.860cr contract from NSIL, the commercial arm of ISRO.

In 2020, space sector reforms were rolled out by the Indian Government to facilitate end-to-end private participation in space activities. In simple terms, this meant that interested firms could design, develop, build and launch their own rockets, satellites and other space infrastructure from India. This was a radical step given that India's space sector has been dominated by the Government-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

On November 18th, "Vikram-S" a sub-orbital rocket built by Indian start-up Skyroot Aerospace took the skies from India's lone spaceport in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. The maiden launch of a private rocket from Indian soil was a success and it helped validate the company's technology and capability. This was an experimental launch to the Upper atmosphere and the company hopes to launch to space by the end of 2023.

The PSLV-C54 mission carried out on November 26th was carrying nanosatellites built by Indian start-ups Pixxel and DhruvaSpace. This is the first-ever instance of satellites built by Indian start-ups being launched on an Indian rocket.

On November 28th, start-up Agnikul Cosmos announced the inauguration of India's first private rocket launchpad and mission control centre. The facility is set up at India's spaceport at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota and will soon witness the maiden launch of Agnikul's rocket.

Edited by Ragul Senthil

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