Trying to make up for lost time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian space agency is gearing up for three quick rocket launches carrying domestic and foreign satellites, said a senior official

The Indian space agency has also developed a Virtual Launch Control Centre to test the rocket systems at the rocket port in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh remotely from the Thiruvananthapuram based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), part of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he added.

"With COVID-19 pandemic prevailing, the Indian space agency in order to reduce the number of people travelling to Sriharikota, has developed a Virtual Launch Control Centre at VSSC. As a result, the testing of various rocket systems is being done at VSSC." S Somanath, Director, VSSC

The physical launch control centre is located in the building that houses the Mission Control Centre in Sriharikota and the systems there have been replicated at VSSC in the form of a virtual launch control centre.

The first rocket which flew utilising ISRO's virtual launch control centre was the PSLV-C49 with 10 satellites on November 7, 2020. It carried India's military satellite RISAT-2BR2 and 9 other foreign commercial satellites lifting off from the first launch pad.

"Two other rockets are getting ready for launch at the rocket port in Sriharikota viz, PSLV-C50 and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The second rocket to fly will be the PSLV-C50 on December 17, 2020. It will carry India's communication satellite CMS-01 lifting off from the second launch pad. The rocket was assembled at Sriharikota with various systems coming from different centres." Somanath said.

The launch of the GISAT-1 satellite which was slated for March 5, 2020 was postponed due to technical reasons a day before the launch.

"The GISAT-1 satellite will be carried by a GSLV rocket. The GSLV rocket was dismantled after the launch was called off. The rocket is being refurbished. The rocket's cryogenic engine has been brought down and it is being readied again," Somanath said.

According to him, the GSLV carrying GISAT-1 is expected to fly after PSLV-C50.

When queried about other countries launching satellites even during the Covid-19 pandemic period, Somanath said they could be having the entire manufacturing set up under one roof or at nearby places.

In the case of India, the ISRO centres making different components for the rocket and made at different centres and logistics was an issue during the Covid-19 period.