India in space

India's space programme began in the mid-1960s with the foundation of ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation. ISRO developed the country's first satellites, including Aryabhata, launched by a Soviet rocket in 1975. India has tended to concentrate its satellite work in fields of national interest, producing remote-sensing satellites and comsats to aid the country's development. The first communications satellite, INSAT 1A, was launched in 1982 on a NASA Delta rocket, and India was also involved in the development of Direct Broadcast satellite television through the 1976 Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), which beamed educational programming to remote villages through a NASA satellite. Recently, ISRO revisited the concept with its EDUSAT mission, launched in September 2004. Indian remote-sensing satellites, meanwhile, have concentrated on hydrology and mineralogy, looking for vital water deposits and potentially valuable mineral resources.

Since the 1970s, ISRO has also worked to develop a series of SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) rockets. The four-stage, solid-fuelled SLV-3 launched its first payload, a test satellite called Rohini 1B, in 1980. For heavier payloads, a modified version called the ASLV (Advanced SLV) is assisted at launch by twin boosters.

The more powerful PSLV (Polar SLV) is a four-stage rocket with alternating solid-and liquid-fuelled stages. It made its first flight in 1994 and has become India's most widely used launcher. A Geosynchronous SLV (GSLV), able to lift heavier loads to higher altitudes, was introduced in 2001.

All ISRO vehicles are launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, on the island of Sriharikota off India's southeastern coast. From here, rockets are launched over the Bay of Bengal at a latitude of about 14°N.

GEOSYNCHRONOUS SLV

India's latest launcher, the GSLV blasts off with EDUSAT aboard on 20 September 2004. The GSLV is a three-stage rocket with a solid first stage, a second stage based on traditional liquid fuels, and a new third stage fuelled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

STACKING EDUSAT

The EDUSAT satellite is winched into place on top of its GSLV launch vehicle. The satellite provides interactive satellite TV-based education in remote areas of India.

STACKING EDUSAT

The EDUSAT satellite is winched into place on top of its GSLV launch vehicle. The satellite provides interactive satellite TV-based education in remote areas of India.

BIOGRAPHY

VIKRAM SARABHAI

Indian physicist Vikram Sarabhai (1919-71) was largely responsible for India's early entry into the Space Age. Born into a wealthy family of freedom campaigners under the British Raj, Sarabhai studied at Cambridge University before and after the Second World War, returning to India after it gained independence in 1947. There he established the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and rose to prominence in the Indian scientific community. Following the launch of Sputnik 1, he persuaded the Indian government to establish ISRO and then oversaw construction of the nation's first launch facilities and rockets, which were operational by 1963. He was later the driving force behind the Aryabhata satellite and the SITE project.

WORKING IN SPACE

Israel in orbit

The Israeli space effort got underway in earnest in 1983 and is managed by ISA, the Israel Space Agency. Israel has developed a number of satellites, but is pragmatic about how they reach orbit. ISA's own launch vehicle, the Shavit, is based on the jericho ballistic missile, solid-fuelled, and capable of launching only small payloads. Although it launched the first Israeli satellite, Ofeq 1, in 1988, and has since launched several more Ofeq reconnaissance satellites, other ISA satellites have been launched on European and Russian rockets. Israel has also signed a deal with India to launch spy satellites with the Indian PSLV.

Launching satellites from foreign sites gets around the difficulties caused by Israel's geographical location. Most satellites are launched eastwards, taking advantage of the speed boost provided by the Earth's daily rotation, but since Israeli rockets flying over (and potentially crashing in) other, mostly hostile, Middle Eastern countries would be politically dangerous, Shavit rockets are launched westwards over the Mediterranean. This means that they are effectively slowed down by the Earth's rotation, severely restricting the size of their payloads.

Brazil and beyond

The most recent nation to join the exclusive club of nations with their own space launch facility is Brazil. The Agenda Espacial Brasileira (AEB) space agency has been developing its VLS-1 launch vehicle since its inception in 1994, but the road to space has not been easy. Two prototypes failed during test launches and a third exploded in August 2003 when one of its solid-fuel rockets

FIRST VLS-1 LAUNCH

The first prototype of Brazil's Veiculo Lancador de Satelites blasts off from the Alcantara launch centre close to the equator. The rocket was destroyed 65 seconds into its flight after veering off course due to a failed booster.

ISRAELI LAUNCHER

A Shavit rocket blasts skywards carrying Israel's Ofeq 5 spy satellite, in May 2002. Launches take place from the Polmohim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv.

ISRAELI LAUNCHER

A Shavit rocket blasts skywards carrying Israel's Ofeq 5 spy satellite, in May 2002. Launches take place from the Polmohim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv.

ignited prematurely, killing 21 people and levelling the launch facility. Nevertheless, Brazil seems determined to become South America's first space power, bouncing back with determination to make its first suborbital space shot in October 2004.

While Brazil is likely to be sending satellites into orbit within a few years at most, which countries are most likely to follow in its footsteps? The answer may trigger a shudder of Space Race-era paranoia among many in the Western world, since it is Iran and North Korea who seem to be the two nations most committed to developing some kind of space-launch capability.

FIRST VLS-1 LAUNCH

The first prototype of Brazil's Veiculo Lancador de Satelites blasts off from the Alcantara launch centre close to the equator. The rocket was destroyed 65 seconds into its flight after veering off course due to a failed booster.

RAINBOW CREW

ISS expeditions are international affairs - the crew of the Soyuz TMA-8 handover flight, for example, consisted of (from left) Marcos Pontes (Brazil), Pavel Vinogradov (Russia), and Jeffrey Williams (United States).

VLADIMIR REMEK

Czechoslovakia's first cosmonaut, and the first spacefarer from a non-superpower nation, Vladimir Remek (left) flew on the Soyuz 28 mission of 2-10 March 1978.

TAKAO DOI

Astronaut Takao Doi flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on mission STS-87 in 1997 and became the first Japanese person to perform a spacewalk.

ILAN RAMON

Israel's first astronaut was killed returning to Earth during the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster of 2003.

PRINCE SULTAN AL-SAUD

Saudi Prince Sultan Al-Saud flew aboard Discovery during the 1985 launch of the Arabsat-1B comsat.

PRINCE SULTAN AL-SAUD

Saudi Prince Sultan Al-Saud flew aboard Discovery during the 1985 launch of the Arabsat-1B comsat.

TAKAO DOI

Astronaut Takao Doi flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on mission STS-87 in 1997 and became the first Japanese person to perform a spacewalk.

ILAN RAMON

Israel's first astronaut was killed returning to Earth during the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster of 2003.

VLADIMIR REMEK

Czechoslovakia's first cosmonaut, and the first spacefarer from a non-superpower nation, Vladimir Remek (left) flew on the Soyuz 28 mission of 2-10 March 1978.

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