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Look spaceward
The unexpected failure of India’s high profile, three stage GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle)-3 during its April 15 orbital mission has been described as a certain setback to the Indian space programme.
 
The failure of 414-tonne, 49-metre tall GSLV, which is believed to be due to the inability of the indigenous cryogenic stage get ignited, has nonetheless delayed the plan of the Indian  Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to attain self reliance in launching satellite weighing over two tonne. Significantly, the GSLV flights that were accomplished so far from the Indian soil were made possible by the Russian supplied upper cryogenic engine stages.
 
The success of April GSLV flight would have catapulted India into the ranks of a select galaxy of nations - US, Russia, Japan China and European Space Agency (ESA)-capable of launching cryogenic fuel driven space vehicles.
 
The “complex and critical” technology of cryogenic propulsion, in comparison to conventional liquid and solid fuel driven stages, makes for a higher level of upward thrust. On another front, the delay in the qualification of the home-grown cryogenic stage could also hit the developmental schedule of the heavy lift of GSLV-MKIII vehicle.
 
The 629-tonne GSLV-MKIII would be capable of placing a four tonne class payload into a geostationary transfer orbit - 36,000-km above the equator where a satellite appears stationary in relation to earth.
 
Clearly, a range of boosters of varying capability is a strategically important space asset to deliver both the civilian and military payloads into the required orbit on time. For in the context of rapidly changing global geo political scenario, India may well find it difficult to access the commercial launch service on time.
 
Initial problems
 
In fact, the development of the cryogenic engine technology by ISRO was a direct outcome of the “technology denial’ system put in place by US. Right from the outset, the US$300-million GSLV project launched in 1990 had faced a variety of hitches - ranging from US high tech export ban to cost  and  time overrun.
 
In fact, with the objective of speeding up the development of GSLV, India had way back in 1991 signed an agreement with the Soviet  space outfit Glavkosmos for the supply of a pair of cryogenic engine stages along with the transfer of relevant technology for India to build its own cryogenic engine stage.
 
However, the break up of the Soviet Union changed the ground reality and a politically and economically emaciated Russia was coerced by US into dropping its proposal to transfer cryogenic engine technology to ISRO.
 
American argument was that this deal constituted a violation of MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime).Ultimately, the Indo-Russian agreement was watered down to the supply of seven cryogenic engine stages to India.
 
Subsequently, US administration imposed high tech embargo on ISRO leading to the denial of some of the critical technologies which have both civilian and military potentials.  
 
Meanwhile, India has requested US to remove ISRO and DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) from the entities list as a prelude to the possibility of Washington and New Delhi resuming cooperation in high tech systems.
 
Indeed, in June this year, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia had said that an India specific review of export control with a focus on state run enterprises like ISRO and DRDO is now underway.
 
Some of the units of ISRO continue to be under American trade sanctions on the ground that many of the technologies developed by ISRO are being accessed by India’s defence establishment.
 
The overwhelming view in the US administration is that technologies being developed by ISRO for its satellites and launch vehicles are readily accessed by DRDO for its missile development program.
 
Many American private think tanks believe that it was the exploitation of the solid fuel technology developed for India’s four stage, 17-tonne heavy civilian space vehicle, SLV-3 that ultimately smoothened path for the realization of Agni intermediate range ballistic missile under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of DRDO.