It was only on December 12 that the Indian Space Research Organisation made public what has been named the LVM3 X mission.
For long, ISRO has been developing the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, or the GSLV. It is different from earlier launch vehicles of ISRO since its third stage is a cryogenic stage. A cryogenic engine is especially lucrative in the aerospace industry as it is offers brutal efficiency.
Based on a contract with Russia, Indian bought a few cryogenic engines from Russia, to use on the GSLV. After subsequent indigenisation of the same, the GSLV Mark II was developed, which used a cryo stage which was a spin-off from the Russian cryo stage.
Based on the technical know-how thus gained, ISRO then proceeded to develop the GSLV Mark III. It would be a heavy-lift rocket, like the Delta Heavy, or the Long March. It would feature a completely indigenous cryogenic engine, known as the CE-20. Needless to mention, all of the GSLV and its successors were previously completely indigenous expect for the cryo stage.
All through, the GSLV Mk III was code-named LVM3. Although this was only evident after ISRO made details of the launch public, a quick reference to research papers confirms that this was long a fact inside ISRO circles.
This particular mission, LVM3 X, would carry the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment. Yes, that’s really a fairly tedious name, so you can call it CARE.
The GSLV Mark III
The first stage, which is a solid stage, is consisted of what are known as the S-200 solid rocket boosters. These are attached as strap-ons.
They use a solid fuel known as Hydroxyl Terminated Polybutadiene, or HTPB. In a nutshell, HTPB is a polymer of the organic compound butadiene, typically consisted of 5-10 monomer units. The chain is terminated with a hydroxyl functional group on each side.
25 metres long, 3.2 metres in diameter, it can hold 200 tonnes of solid propellant.
The second stage is a liquid stage, designated as the L-110. It is the core stage, meaning that most of the power of the rocket is derived from this stage.
It runs on 2 Vikas Engines, which were indigenously developed after gaining technological know-how by reverse-engineering Russian Viking engines. It runs on a fuel known as UH 25, which consists of 75% UDMH + 25% hydrazine.
UDMH, or unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine, is an allotrope of hydrazine with a methyl group attached to it. Dinitrogen pentoxide is used as the oxidiser.
4 metres in diameter, it can contain 110 tonnes of propellant.
The third stage is the Cryogenic Upper Stage, or the C-25. It runs on the CE-20 engine. Cryo engines use liquid hydrogen as fuel, with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. The challenge of designing cryo engines is mainly the effective handling of these cryogenic fluids, which are stored at extremely low temperature.
However, this mission LVM3 has what is known as a passive cryogenic stage. This basically means that the CE 20 engine shall be integrated, but it shall not actually fire during flight. ISRO will test the same in flight at a later date.
To simulate a somewhat real situation, the engine on this flight will be filled with a cryogenic fluid much easier to handle: liquid nitrogen.
In this mission, the thing that holds most of the cards is a mud-stained bucket. Well, at least, that’s what this 3-ton thing looks like: the CARE module.
LVM3-X, that is the rocket, would climb to an altitude of 126 km. At a velocity of 5.3 km/s, it will inject the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-Entry Experiment, or CARE, into orbit.
6 liquid-propellant thrusters on the CM will correct any perturbations caused by separation and steer the spacecraft to ensure correct angle for re-entry into the atmosphere. The thrusters will cease operation at a height of about 80 km.
The main objective of CARE is to test the re-entry systems that will one day power human spaceflight courtesy of ISRO.
It will also test the atmospheric deceleration of the capsule, and also the deceleration following the successful deployment of parachutes.
At an altitude of about 15 km, with the capsule travelling at 839 km per hour, a 2.5-m diameter pilot parachute will deploy and yank out a 6.5 m drogue parachute to slow the spacecraft to 180 km/h.
At an altitude of 3 km, three main parachutes would be deployed, each 31-m in diameter. Developed by the Aerial Delivery Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) in Agra, the parachutes are the largest ever made in the country.
As CARE splashes down in the Bay of Bengal, near the Andaman archipelago, the Indian Coast Guard would be tracking its beacon. It would help to locate the capsule after splashdown, and subsequently recover it with additional assistance from the Indian Navy.
The Final Act
On December 18, 2014, the final hour approached at 09:30 IST, or 04:00 UTC.
As India’s very first heavy-lift launch vehicle lifted off, hundreds watched with glazed eyes, physically, online, and on national television. This event was broadcast live on YouTube, and telecast by State broadcaster Doordarshan.
As the rocket soared towards the sky, telemetry soon started coming in. ISRO made public updates in real-time on their Facebook page.
“First experimental flight of LVM3 with CARE module successful,” was soon the update on Facebook. And so was reality.
ISRO soon made public an official press release on their website.
“The first experimental flight (GSLV Mk-III X/CARE) of India’s next generation launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully conducted today (December 18, 2014) morning from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Also known as LVM3-X/CARE, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight………
After the successful re-entry phase, CARE module’s parachutes opened, following which it gently landed over Andaman Sea about 1600 km from Sriharikota, there by successfully concluding the GSLV Mk-III X/CARE mission.
With today’s successful GSLV Mk-III X / CARE mission, the vehicle has moved a step closer to its first developmental flight with the functional C25 cryogenic upper stage.”
This mission has achieved two goals at the same time. It has proved the integrity of the GSLV Mark III, sans its cryogenic stage. Besides, it has also taken ISRO a step forward towards human spaceflight, by testing re-entry systems and decent.
Scientific analysis is eagerly awaited, following recovery of the capsule.
If you want to consult further technical details about the whole mission, including the payload, head over and take a peek at the mission brochure:
All missions resources are available at the mission page: