Augmenting India’s space capacity to boost communication services, its latest satellite GSAT-16 was successfully launched on board Arianespace rocket from the space port of Kourou in French Guiana in the early hours today, after a delay of two days due to bad weather.
The satellite with a lift-off mass of 3,181 kg was injected into the intended Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) about 32 minutes after a perfect lift-off of Ariane 5 at 2.10 AM on flight VA221, signifying the 221st launch of an Ariane family vehicle from the spaceport.
In the dual rocket mission, GSAT-16 with 48 transponders, the largest-ever carried by a communication satellite built by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was ejected into space four minutes after its co-passenger DIRECTTV-14 spacecraft, designed to provide direct-to-home television broadcasts across the US, Arianespace said.
Soon after the launch, the Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO’s Master Control Facility at Hassan in Karnataka took over the command and control of the GSAT-16 and said initial checks indicated “normal health” of the satellite.
ISRO said the first orbit raising operation is scheduled for tomorrow at around 03:50 AM as part of manoeuvres to place the satellite finally in its designated slot at 55 deg East longitude in the Geostationary orbit and co-located with GSAT-8, IRNSS-1A and IRNSS-1B satellites.
The launch of GSAT-16 was originally scheduled for Friday but was put off hours before the lift-off due to inclement weather at Kourou, which is chosen for its strategic location of being close to the equator that is ideally-suited for missions into the geostationary orbit.
Arianespace rescheduled it for Saturday at 02.09 AM (IST) but within hours that too was postponed, citing “unfavourable weather conditions (high altitude winds” over the launch pad. It was then rescheduled for wee hours of today.
“… two days we had to wait for this to happen, but it has happened excellently, so congratulations to all people from Arianespace for its excellent performance,” ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) Director S K Shivakumar said at the Arianespace facility.
Arianespace said today’s was the 63rd successful Ariane 5 launch in a row.
GSAT-16, a multi-application telecommunications satellite, will cover the entire Indian sub-continent. It is the 18th ISRO satellite to be launched by Arianespace, starting with the Apple experimental satellite in 1981, an Arianespace release said.
Shortly after the orbit injection announcement, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said: “Tonight, we are very proud of meeting the expectations of these two loyal customers, whose diversity clearly reflects our clientele”
Shivakumar said Arianespace had given ISRO the precise injection parameters as assured and in the next few days rest of the operational activities like Onboard Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) firing and others will be carried out.
“Subsequently telecommunication payload systems are planned as part of on orbit testing and we hope to have the spacecraft ready for services by the end of this year,” he said.
GSAT-16 has 24 C-band, 12 Ku-band and 12 Upper Extended C-band transponders that will boost public and private TV and radio services, large-scale Internet and telephone operations.
It improves the national space capacity with 48 transponders joining 180 odd existing transponders with ISRO.
Hit by capacity crunch, ISRO has leased 95 transponders on foreign satellites mainly for private sector users like TV broadcasters who have often complained of inadequate transponder capacity to meet their requirements.
The transponder augmentation has become a pressing need, prompting advancement of GSAT-16 launch by about six months.
Today’s launch comes 11 months after the last Indian communication satellite GSAT-14 was flown in January this year. GSAT-15 is scheduled for launch in October next year.
“I wish to inform that we will come back to Kourou with GSAT 15 spacecraft.It is at the advanced stage of integration at ISRO satellite center where we are conducting tests as per plans.
That is expected to be ready for launch some time by third quarter of 2016,” Shivakumar said.
ISRO said the present orbit of GSAT-16 will be raised to Geostationary Orbit of about 36,000 km altitude through three orbit raising manoeuvres by the firing LAM engine.
“Preparations are underway for the first firing, planned in the early hours of December 8. The satellite will be placed in the Geostationary Orbit by December 12 and subsequently the satellite’s communication transponders will be switched on for in-orbit testing,”it said.
India’s rockets PSLV and the present GSLV do not have the capability to launch satellites of more than two tonne class, prompting ISRO to opt for an outside launch.
ISRO is developing the next big launcher, GSLV-MkIII, which can put satellites of up to 4 tonnes in orbit.
The Government in July, 2013 had given approval for GSAT-16 with a procured launch cost and insurance both amounting to Rs 865.50 crore.
Ariane’s payload lift performance is more than 10,200 kg., including a combined total of some 9,480 kg. for DIRECTV-14 and GSAT-16 passengers.
The designated on orbit operational life of GSAT-16 is 12 years.
In the coming days, the deployment of appendages such as the solar panels, antennas and three axis stabilisation of the satellite will be done.
GSAT-16 will replace INSAT-3E, which was decommissioned a little prematurely in April.