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Monday, November 28, 2022

Why is India building a new spaceport in Tamil Nadu?

Of the 2,350 acres, about 83% or 1,950 of the land has been acquired for the construction of India’s second space port. Located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Kulasekarapattinam is the location of the second space port that India is building for the country’s space programme. Speaking in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, Dr Jitendra Singh, who serves as the Minister of State for Science and Technology, revealed that the process of land acquisition was underway through the Tamil Nadu government.

“The plan is to initially redeploy the existing manpower to oversee the setting up of necessary facilities at the space port and also to carry out critical launch activities,” the minister said. He also said that once the second spaceport is completed, the manpower requirement for operation and maintenance of the facilities will be assessed.

Projections suggest that the second spaceport will be ready for launch by 2024 or 2025.

India’s current spaceport and what is special about it?

India currently operates a spaceport with two launch pads at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. This facility in Sriharikota has been started since the late 1970s. From 1993 onwards, the facility also saw the launch of PSLV and thereafter, GSLV and GSLV Mk3 rockets. Sriharikota offers various advantages as an ideal launch site. Located on the east coast and near the equator, rockets launched from here are aided by a velocity in addition to the Earth’s west-east rotation. This effect of this rotation is felt closest to the equator and is almost zero at the Earth’s poles. This effect mainly benefits projection into equatorial orbits (orbits above Earth’s equator).

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Rockets launched from Sriharikota, located near the sea, fly east, soar over the sea. Therefore, in the event of an accident, the rocket and its debris will only fall on the sea, thus avoiding any major catastrophe.

Why does India need a new spaceport?

While Sriharikota is ideal for launching heavy rockets, a bigger challenge is posed when launching smaller rockets—such as ISRO’s upcoming Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, which is meant to launch 500kg of satellites. Sriharikota presents a challenge when rockets are launched into polar orbit (the orbit of the Earth above the poles). While a rocket is headed for the South Pole from Sriharikota, the rocket must pass over the island nation of Sri Lanka. Given the high risk of flying over a country, India’s rockets are programmed to perform maneuvers to avoid the terrain of Lanka. Therefore, instead of flying in a straight line, the rocket follows a curved path and takes a turn.

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To perform this maneuver, the rocket would have to burn a fair amount of fuel. While larger rockets can perform this maneuver without much impact on the rocket’s ability to carry payloads, smaller rockets such as the SSLV will lose a lot of fuel doing so. Losing fuel for the turn would mean that the payload carrying capacity of the rocket is reduced. Therefore, India was looking for a place from which small rockets could be launched in a straight line, without the risk of flying over Lanka.

Located in the southern region of Tamil Nadu, Kulasekarapattinam is a place in Tuticorin district. When launched from here, smaller rockets like the SSLV (which is expected to make its maiden flight in August 2022) and rockets being built by Indian start-ups can save fuel and fly straight towards the pole. Given that smaller rockets are easier to build, assemble and launch with less time than their larger counterparts, it is important for India to have a dedicated spaceport for such small rockets. In particular, smaller rockets are also attractive to foreign and domestic customers who want to launch smaller satellites at a lower cost.

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