Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious South Asian satellite project, announced two years ago, is likely to miss the December deadline as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch GSLV Mark III that month. “ISRO has been launching at least one satellite every month, so our calender is perennially packed and at this point of time it looks difficult to launch the South Asian satellite in December. It could get delayed by a month,” a senior official said.
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Launching of GSLV Mark III will be a crucial development in the country’s space history. The Launch Vehicle is likely to be sent in the space by December end.
“Work on GSLV Mark III is in progress, but the date for the launch is yet to be arrived at. The project will help ISRO launch satellites weighing around four tonnes,” ISRO chairman and Department of Space Secretary A S Kirankumar told reporters.
ISRO currently has the capability of launching satellites weighing up to 2.2 tonnes.
It has launched two satellites in September, and it is expected that October will also see launch of two more satellites. On August 28, it conducted the first experimental mission of Scramjet Engine.
The delay in the South Asian satellite also comes at a time when the regional grouping’s annual summit in Islamabad has been called off following escalation of tension between India and Pakistan, in the wake of the Uri terror attack.
“We are working on the South Asian satellite project, but no date for launch has been finalised,” Kirankumar said.
Modi, during the regional bloc’s 2014 Summit in Kathmandu, had announced launching of a SAARC Satellite as a ‘gift’ to its neighbours in order to expand information sharing and connectivity within the region.
SAARC had come into being on December 8, 1985 and the initial plan was to operationalise the satellite in December this year.
However, Pakistan opposed the move and demanded that the satellite be brought under the ambit of the grouping. This was unacceptable to India. The name was later changed to South Asian Satellite.
Barring Afghanistan and Pakistan, all other SAARC countries have given their go-ahead to the project. Even as the political leadership of Afghanistan has given an in-principle nod to the project, there are some technical issues involved which are preventing Kabul to give its final consent and the “technical teams of two countries are sorting it out”.
The delay in launching the project may also help bring Afghanistan on board, sources said.
Another reason for the delay in launching the South Asian satellite, was cancellation of SAARC Summit in Islamabad which was scheduled next month, a source said.
This has given ISRO the time to focus on GSLV Mark III launcher.
Sources said that once GSLV Mark III is launched, India will not have to depend on others for sending its heavy satellites in space, which it currently does from Guiana Space Centre near Kourou in French Guiana.
A good amount of money earned from the launch of light-weight foreign satellites with its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) goes into hiring the launchpad in Kourou.