For some reason ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' awoke early on Saturday and looked at the watch. It was 1.45 a.m.
It was just 23 minutes left for the launch of Ariane 5 carrying India's 3100 kg communication satellite, GSat-8.
BMM immediately, without switching on the room lights, activated the TV and accessed doordarshan to watch the live coverage of the launch. Good it worked. But, there was disappointment too. Doordarshan was telecasting a boring programme about khadi and then about national unity! Nothing could be more dull than these two programmes at that hour!
Then just around 2 a.m. fortunately khadi and national unity went off the screen, and the live telecast from the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guyana finally began, this time minus the two commentators. The programme was prepared by Arianespace and it showed the Jupiter control room where various officials both from Isro and SingTel were monitoring the consoles. BMM could see Isro Satellite Centre, T.K.Alex and chairman, K.Radhakrishnan.
The countdown incidentally was in French and at T-5 minutes the status was green for lift off and it was `go.' In the rocket GSat-8 was positioned below the Asian communication satellite, ST-2 weighing 5090 kg.
At sharp, 2.08 a.m. the rocket's engines ignited and Ariane-5 thundered off the launch pad carrying ST-2 and GSat-8. The launch celebrated the 30th anniv of Isro's colloboration with Arianespace since 1981. It was the 14th Indian satellite to be launched by Arianespace.
What is the significance of the GSat-8 mission? Indeed air travellers in India can heave a sigh of relief because GSat-8 assures them of safer air travel in the days ahead. The reason? It is carrying two important payloads--Gagan (GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation) which will hopefully strengthen air safety levels in Indian airspace, and 24 ku band transponders for direct-to-home telecasts and news gathering. Both of them are expected to becme fully operational in about six weeks after all the tests are completed.
More about Gagan. It flew in GSat-4 on April 15,2010, which was carried by the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, for the first time powered by an Indian cryogenic engine. But, the mission was a failure. Instead of heading for the sky, Gagan headed towards the sea!
But, on Saturday, GSat-8 carrying Gagan and the 24 ku band transponders headed towards the sky.! After all in Sanskrit Gagan means sky.
The goal of the Rs 774-crore Gagan having a 12-year mission life is to provide navigation system for all phases of flight over the Indian airspace. Based on the experience of Gagan, the government will create an autonomous regional air navigation system called the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System.
To implement the Gagan system, codes for certain frequences were obtained from the United States Air Force and the US department of defence. It uses eight reference stations located at New Delhi, Guwahati, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Thiruvanathanapuram, Bangalore, Jammu and Port Blair with a master control centre at Bangalore.
According to those connected with the Gagan project, its flight management system is expected to save operators' time and money by managing climb, descent and engine performance profiles. It will also improve airport and airspace access in all weather conditions.
The Gagan project will bring together two sectors--space and civil aviation.
If this colloboration indeed works, be sure aviation in India can look forward to brighter days.
This of course will be due to the space sector.