On August 27, 2015 India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle has successfully deployed a communications satellite, with the rocket’s ninth flight lofting the GSAT-6 spacecraft. The launch was on schedule at 16:52 local time (11:22 UTC) with the launch taking place from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island.
This launch was important for two main reasons: one, India gaining mastery in launching heavy satellites into geostationary orbit (36,000 km above sea level); and, two, the rationale behind launching GSAT-6, which is also designated as INSAT-4E.
In early January 2014, ISRO had conducted the first successful launch of a rocket (GSLV D-5) using indigenous cryogenic technology. The first ever attempt made by ISRO to undertake a GSLV launch using an indigenous cryogenic upper stage had failed in 2010. Now, with the consecutive second successful launch of the GLSV, ISRO has proved the reliability of its cryogenic rocket technology.
First flown in April 2001, the GSLV has had something of a troubled history; of its eight launches to date, three completed their missions successfully, one reached a lower-than-planned orbit which was corrected at the expense of several years’ operational life for its payload, one reached an unusable low orbit that could not be corrected and three failed to achieve orbit altogether.
Following the success of the previous launch – which carried the GSAT-14 spacecraft to orbit in January 2014 – ISRO was hoping for the GSLV’s first back-to-back successes since the type’s second and third flights in 2003 and 2004 respectively. That proved to be the case.
With GSAT-6, ISRO is also for the first time experimenting with an antenna having a diameter of six metres. Communication satellites require huge antennas for appropriate transmission. According to ISRO, this S-Band unfurlable antenna would be utilised for five spot beams over the Indian mainland and very small handheld devices would be required to be used for data, video or voice transfer. The spot beams would exploit the frequency reuse scheme to increase frequency spectrum utilisation efficiency.
The launch of the military satellite GSAT-6 needs to be analysed in the backdrop of India’s overall military space capabilities. India has announced that the GSAT-7 and GSAT-6 satellites have been developed for strategic purposes. Earlier, some remote-sensing (sub-metre resolution, matching with the best in the world) satellites were also launched by ISRO as dual-purpose satellites like the technology experimental satellite (TES, 2000) and the four cartographic satellites (CARTOSAT-1, 2, 2A and 2B in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010). India has also launched (with Israeli assistance) two Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites called RISAT II (2009) and RISAT I (2011) essentially to address terrorism related threats.
Satellite based navigation is another important arena which has significant military utility. ISRO is developing a programme called Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) to provide accurate position information services to civilian and military users. A position accuracy of better than 10 metres is expected to be provided to military users. IRNSS would have seven satellites, out of which four have already been placed in orbit and the system is expected to become operational shortly. All these satellites together constitute India’s military space investments.
India’s increasing investments in space for strategic purposes clearly indicates the rising relevance of space assets for the armed forces. Space technologies have been considered a force multiplier for militaries for some time. Now, space technologies are fast becoming important constituents of war fighting itself. Various modern day weapon systems and military platforms have significant dependence on satellites systems for their operations. Hence, limiting the adversary’s access to its own satellite systems is fast becoming a critical component of military strategy. Under such circumstances there is a need to look beyond merely developing a capability for network centric warfare. The launch of satellites like GSAT-6 indicates that India has started factoring satellite technology as an important constituent for achieving net centricity.