The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has begun work on its second rocket launching pad or spaceport, which will be Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. ISRO’s second spaceport will be around 2,300 acres in size, smaller than the first port in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, which is 145 square kilometres in area and 27 kilometres in coastal length.
Union Minister of State for Atomic Energy and Space, Jitendra Singh told the Rajya Sabha on November 28 that the central government has a proposal to set up a rocket launching pad near Kulasekarapattinam in Tamil Nadu.
Speaking to news agency IANS, Thoothukudi District Collector Sandeep Nanduri said, “The process for acquiring land for the rocket launching pad has begun. The land requirement will be about 2,300 acres. The project activity is expected to begin in six months.”
The second spaceport after Sriharikota was announced considering the increase in the number of launches that the space agency is planning in the coming years.
Recently, on November 27, ISRO launched observation satellite Cartosat-3 and 13 US nano satellites. Earlier in September, the agency launched Chandrayaan-2, its second mission to the moon. Chandrayaan-3 is reportedly already in the works, as is the preparation for Gaganyaan, which is ISRO’s manned mission to space, scheduled for 2022.
K Sivan, the ISRO Chairman, told the Times of India that the Thoothukudi spaceport will majorly facilitate launches of newly developed Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), once it is ready. The first such launch will have the payload capacity of around 500 kg and will happen in the first three months of 2020 from Sriharikota, and later, from Thoothukudi.
But why did the space agency choose Thoothukudi for its second launching port?
Proximity to seashore
K Sivan said that Thoothukudi’s proximity to the seashore makes it ideal for “straight southward” launches. From Sriharikota, such southward bound launches are not possible as the rockets have to fly around Sri Lanka. The fact that rockets will be able to have a straight trajectory from Thoothukudi will also allow them to carry heavier payloads.
A spaceport in Thoothukudi district would be ideal for putting satellites in the polar orbit — normally undertaken through a Polar Sattelite Launch Vehicle or PSLV rocket — but not for satellites with geostationary orbits launched by GSLV rockets.
Incidentally, the Sriharikota spaceport was also chosen for its proximity to the sea. Safety reasons, too, were factored in while choosing the location.
Deviprasad Karnik, then Director of Publication and Public Relations, ISRO had told TNM in 2017 that if a rocket does not follow its given trajectory after lift-off, a destruct command has to be initiated. In such a situation, if the rocket falls on land, it can cause massive destruction, compared to when it falls into sea or desert, or a place with no habitation.
Proximity to equator
Like the Sriharikota spaceport in the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Thoothukudi was selected as a spaceport due to its nearness to the equator.
“A rocket launch site should be on the east coast and near the equator. And Thoothukudi district satisfies that condition,” a former ISRO official told IANS.
Deviprasad had told TNM that the proximity to the Equator saves substantial fuel.
ISRO has its Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Mahendragiri in Tirunelveli district, where it assembles the second and fourth stage engines for the PSLV.
Instead of transporting the second and fourth stages to Sriharikota from Mahendragiri, it would be easier to shift them to the launch pad if it is built in Kulasekarapattinam, which is around 100 km away.
(With IANS inputs)