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Chapter ends in India-Russia space cooperation, another to begin

One chapter in Indo-Russian space collaboration has ended with the launch last week of a rocket capable of placing geo-synchronous satellites in orbit but another is set to open, scientists say. The third stage of the geo-synchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) launched Thursday was powered by a Russian cryogenic engine. India has five more Russian cryogenic engines in stock, but future GSLVs may use Indian variants now under development. And with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) marketing technology it has developed, future Russian satellites might be equipped with Indian software systems for weather forecasting, mapping, data tracking and transmission, fuel engineering and photography, scientists associated with the space programme say. ISRO is already exporting technology worth Rs.300 million annually. The organisation’s chairman, K. Kasturirangan, said a large database on cryogenic engines had been compiled and that tests on the Indian variant would begin in a few months. It was in 1991 that the Russian company Glavkosmos agreed to sell ISRO two cryogenic engines to India and transfer technology for building them in the country.

The U.S. opposed the transfer element, contending it violated the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) since the engines could be used to power ballistic missiles. Glavkosmos had then claimed the U.S. action was aimed at “destroying” the Russian space industry. In 1993, Glavkosmos and ISRO restructured the deal and the Russians agreed to provide four finished rocket-stages with cryogenic engines. ISRO got two mock-ups, test equipment and an option to buy three more engines. The technology transfer aspect of the deal was dropped from this fresh agreement. However, reports have suggested the Russians had transferred 90 percent of the technology to India by 1992. Manufacturing equipment was also provided. By 1994, the Americans had relented and in 1995, ISRO exercised its option to acquire the three additional engines. It was only in September 1998, however, that the first cryogenic engine arrived in India. One of the Russian engines was used for the first launch of the GSLV in April 2001 but it under-performed due to a mismatch with the other two stages of the rocket. Indian and Russian scientists rectified the defect and this resulted in the second Russian cryogenic engine performing at its optimum in the GSLV launch on May 8. This saw the GSAT-2 experimental communications satellite hurtling out of the earth’s atmosphere in five minutes, the fastest ever achieved by an Indian rocket, and being placed in primary orbit in 17 minutes.

Source: Papri Sri Raman, Indo-Asian News Service