NEW DELHI: India’s most powerful homegrown rocket to date is set to launch Monday, another milestone for its indigenous space program that one day hopes to put a man into orbit.
The 43-metre (140-foot) rocket is scheduled to lift off just before 5:30 pm (1200 GMT) from the southern island of Sriharikota, one of two sites used by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to launch satellites.
This latest model boasts a powerful engine that has been developed in India over many years. Program managers hope the technology will reduce reliance on European engines that have propelled some of India’s spacecraft in the past.
The GSLV Mk III rocket will carry a satellite weighing more than three tons into a high orbit above Earth, a landmark achievement as India had struggled to match the heavier payloads of other space giants.
“This is an important moment in India’s space technology to launch an indigenous heavy rocket,” Ajay Lele from the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses told Agence France-Presse.
“Communication satellites are quite heavy and we were able to send up to two tons previously. This is a double quantum jump for India.”
A successful launch of the 640-tonne rocket will be another feather in the cap for scientists at ISRO, who won Asia’s race to Mars in 2014 when an Indian spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoe-string budget.
That feat carved out India’s reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $73 million price tag drastically undercutting NASA’s Maven Mars $671-million mission.
ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.
India is vying for a vying for a larger slice of the booming commercial satellite business as phone, internet and other companies seek greater and more high-end communications.
In February, India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014.