What if you did something that was awesome, a first for you and your country, and the world just yawned? Can you imagine how irritating that would be? Especially if your accomplishment was nearly as important as certain other accomplishments that occurred weeks earlier? Imagine India being in that awkward position and the something significant they accomplished was a capsule re-entry test.
Yes, India tested a crew capsule last week. And barely anyone seemed to mention it. Compare this with the SLS/Orion hoo-rah-ing. Perhaps India’s focus is more on development than PR? (Doubtful, really. Most big organizations pursue PR like a lawyer chasing an ambulance.)
Last Friday, I happened upon an article in the Bangalore Mirror about India’s latest launch of a very big rocket–the Launch Vehicle Mark III (LVM3). On December 18, the LVM3 was finally successfully launched into the skies. More importantly, it carried a payload called the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE). The whole idea of the launch was to test a few things, such as the LVM3 actually working as it should while pushing through the Earth’s atmosphere into space and that it was going in the direction it was supposed to go. CARE was another experiment, which really was designed to allow the Indians to understand the re-entry characteristics of the module itself (pictured below).
So, again, the Indians are testing a crew capsule, and this time they dropped it from the LVM3 about 126 km (nearly 80 miles) above the Earth. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the crew module weighs 3775 kg (a little over 4 tons), which is just shy of the new LVM3’s Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) payload weight limit of 4,000 kg. The re-entry vehicle/crew module came back to Earth safely, using parachutes near the end of its descent. It landed in the Bay of Bengal and was recovered. The ISRO is considering the test of the rocket and the CARE mission a success.
India’s been rather busy with space this year. There’s the BIG mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission, which is now orbiting Mars and twittering pictures back to us (although it’s been fairly quiet lately). India is also halfway towards getting its own positioning, navigation, and timing satellite constellation, the IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System), in orbit. Now India caps it all off, literally, with a successful crew capsule test AND gaining the ability to lift heavier satellite payloads in orbit.
And who were the idiots saying this was a bad year for space? The glass is halfway full, people…
Update: At the risk of turning this into an echo chamber, one of the people who liked this post actually has a very nice run-down of their watching the launch 11 kilometers away from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. It’s very short, but you can read about it right here: http://verseherder.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/a-concert-with-satellites-for-drummers/