From Aryabhata to RLV-TD: A history of India’s space journeys

ISRO was originally called the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) when it was set up in 1962 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Vikram Sarabhai.

Updated: May 23, 2016 6:53 pm

The RLV-TD HEX-01, India’s first ever indigenous reusable launch vehicle space shuttle, was tested on Monday, another milestone in the country’s experiments with frugal space technology research. The reusable vehicle is expected to heavily cut down cost of launching rockets for carrying satellites.

Space research in India began in the 1920s with studies conducted by scientists S K Mitra, C V Raman and Meghnad Saha. However, it was only from the 1940s and 50s that institutionalised probe into space related activities started gaining nationwide attention. At this point, space studies in India was restricted to aspects of Earth’s atmosphere, weather prediction and the surrounding magnetic field.

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History of space activities in India reached its first milestone in 1962 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru along with scientist Vikram Sarabhai established the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR). Following the establishment of the INCOSPAR, the first rocket launch from India took place in November 1963.

The ICONOSPAR grew to become the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969. With the establishment of the ISRO and further with the government of India forming the Space Commission for policy formulation and the Department of space, research and execution of space related enterprises got a boost that it never had before.

Over the next 47 years, ISRO has improvised and developed technology, launching several indigenously created vehicles into space.

Below is a timeline of the key achievements made by ISRO since its establishment.

1975: The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was launched using a Russian rocket. It provided India with the basis of learning satellite technology and designing.

1975: ISRO along with NASA developed means of using space communications system for TV broadcasting. This resulted in the creation of the project Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE). It was a one-year program covering Indian villages and districts. The main purpose of SITE was to experiment usage of satellite broadcasting to educate the masses.

1976-77: Satellite Telecommunication Experiments Project (STEP) was launched as a sequel of SITE. It used satellite technology for enhancing domestic communication.

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1980: The first indigenously created satellite vehicle was launched from Sriharikota range in Andhra Pradesh. SLV-3 placed the Rohini satellite, RS-1, in orbit, thereby making India the sixth member of an exclusive club of space-faring nations

1983: Having experimented with SITE and STEP, the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) was commissioned to work on broadcasting, telecommunication, meteorology and rescue operations. It is the largest domestic communications system in the Asia Pacific. Over the next few decades, a number of INSAT satellites were propelled into space.

1984: The first Indo-Soviet manned space mission was launched. Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian citizen to go into space. He flew aboard in the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11, as part of a three member Soviet-Indian crew.

1987: The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) Programme supported a larger payload than the SLV-3 and was meant to be low-cost. From March 1987, there were four developmental flights under the programme

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2008: In October 2008, the first lunar mission launched by ISRO. The spacecraft, Chandrayaan took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre and it operated till August 2009. The project was announced by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as part of his independence day speech in 2003. The greatest achievement of this lunar project was the discovery of a large number of water molecules in moon. ISRO plans to launch its second lunar mission, Chandrayaan 2 by 2018.

2014: Mangalyaan, India’s first interplanetary mission was launched, making ISRO the fourth space agency to reach Mars. Mangalyaan gained worldwide repute as being the least expensive Mars mission till date.

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