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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
India joins space elite
European Space Agency Ariance rocket launch
Five countries control the lucrative satellite launch market
India's successful launch of a rocket capable of firing satellites deep into space means it now joins an elite space club.

It joins five others - the US, Russia, China, Japan and the European Space Agency - who control a lucrative satellite launch market.


Putting two or two-and-a-half tonnes may not be enough for the future

Physicist Professor Yashpal
And western defence experts believe it also gives nuclear-capable India the capacity to test a range of military technology.

During Wednesday's launch, which followed an earlier failed attempt, India fired a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) carrying a 1.5 tonne satellite.

At least two more tests are planned before the country's space agency can hope to market its capabilities.

"One has to go further of course," says Delhi-based physicist, Professor Yashpal.

"Putting two or two-and-a-half tonnes may not be enough for the future. We may need to put 4-6 tonnes... higher up," he says.

The aim of the GSLV project is to put the satellite into geosynchronous orbit - which means it will orbit the earth at the same rate as the planet itself.

Agni missile
India has an active missile programme
It would mean the satellite would always be over the same point on the earth's surface, a crucial advantage for a communications satellite enabling it to transmit signals.

But to do this, it has to be placed deep into space, at least 36,000 km from the earth's surface - far higher than most satellites.

This makes the GSLV launch India's most technologically advanced space project to date.

Chequred history

The project has been dogged by controversy and trouble.

Space history
1979
Maiden flight of Satellite Launch Vehicle fails

1987-88
Two tests of the next generation rocket series also fail

1992
Tests resume with successful launch

1993
Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle crashes into the Bay of Bengal

1994-99
Four successful PSLV launches
In 1992, the United States imposed a two-year technology embargo on India on the grounds that it would violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

India eventually successfully negotiated with Russia for the delivery of a cryogenic engine, but only after US concerns over MTCR violations were laid to rest.

The cryogenic engine uses liquid oxygen and supercooled hydrogen and is designed to improve the rocket's thrust even at heavier loads.

Nuclear concerns

The launch is also likely to raise concern over India's military programme especially after the country's nuclear tests in May 1998.

India has a major missile development programme including intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

In January India successfully test-fired the Agni-II missile, capable of reaching any target in neighbouring Pakistan and deep into China.

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See also:

18 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Indian rocket blasts off
28 Mar 01 | South Asia
Indian satellite launch fails
18 Jan 01 | South Asia
China's fears over India missile test
20 Mar 00 | South Asia
South Asia's nuclear race
31 May 99 | South Asia
Lift-off for Indian space rocket
28 Apr 99 | South Asia
India enters space market
06 Nov 00 | South Asia
India ditches key satellite
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