It has taken 26 years for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to close in on that thrilling milestone — the 50th mission

But the next 50 would not take even half as long, given the changing demand profile of Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) trusted launch vehicle, said S Somanath, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thumba.

“This is the inflection point where the rate of growth is suddenly changing. Today we realise the numbers we need —10 missions per year. We have taken 26 years to reach the 50th flight. But now, in the next five years, we will be making another 50,” Mr. Somanath told The Hindu, commenting on the upcoming 50th flight — the PSLV-C48 mission — planned on December 11 from Sriharikota.

By the 50th mission, the PSLV would have launched 319 small satellites and around 63 satellites of Indian origin, he said.

The first PSLV mission — the PSLV-D1 — lifted off on September 20, 1993. On its 50th mission, the PSLV will carry India’s RISAT-2BR1 and nine smaller foreign satellites. The 49 missions so far have been marred by only two failures.

Over the years, ISRO has developed variants of this four-stage rocket — PSLV-XL and PSLV-CA to mention two. But the space agency had no immediate plan to make drastic changes in design or configuration, Mr. Somanath said.


“The current goal is to productionise the launcher; increase the numbers, bring down manufacturing costs and improve reliability through technology infusion. Also, we are exploring the possibility of retaining the fourth stage as an orbital platform,” he said.

Efforts to create an industry consortium for productionising the PSLV was under way, he added.

In the formative years of the PSLV programme few people could have imagined that the rocket would have such a long run, Mr. Somanath said.

The rocket’s core strength lay in its being a flexible, mid-size launcher as much as in the robust design, he said.

Significant Number

“Fifty is significant in the global context. Not many launch vehicles have attained as many missions. Moreover, mid-size rockets have a large potential in the current scenario. The market size of a small rocket is limited to small satellites. A big one, on the other hand, can carry only five tonne or six-tonne satellites, which is again limited in numbers. But a mid-size rocket has the potential to carry small satellites in larger numbers,” he said.


PSLV was also important in that it was used in India’s first lunar mission and the interplanetary mission to Mars. “Though it is classified as a polar satellite launch vehicle, it is no longer that; it is a ‘VSLV’ — a versatile satellite launch vehicle,” Mr. Somanath said.