Space Research – India


The Indian Space programme began with the setting up of a sounding rocket launching facility at Thumba, near Thiruvanthapuram in 1963. The Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) served as the nucleus for the growth of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In 1972 the Department of Space (DOS) was established with its headquarters at Bangalore. DOS is responsible for the execution of India’s space activities through ISRO. ISRO today encompasses the following centres:

(1) Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thumba near Thiruvanthapuram (Kerala); (2) Sriharikota Range (SHAR) in Andhra Pradesh; (3) Space Application Centre at Thumba; (4) Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad (Gujarat); (5) ISRO, Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bangalore; (6) Auxiliary Propulsion System Unit (APSU), Bangalore; (7) ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) with its headquarters at Bangalore; and (8) National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Hyderabad.


It was on 21 November 1963, that the first two-stage imported rocket zoomed into space from Thumba, near Thiruvanthapuram. This heralded the modern era of space research and applications in the country. The space programme has since graduated from sounding rockets and passive vapour cloud payloads to the developments of guidance-controlled satellite launch vehicles and state-of-the-art satellite systems.

The programme has achieved a high degree of self-reliance in space technology, including the use of space technology for practical applications of relevance to the country.

During past years, the space programme has had a large number of successes and a few setbacks especially in the developmental plans on hitech areas. But the failures notwithstanding, the country has benefited from the operational systems.

In particular, progress has been made in the Satellite Telecommunication Experiment Projects (STEP), the Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE), the Satellite for Earth Observations (SEO), the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) programme and remote sensing (IRS). The INSAT system represents a practical application of the space technology to socio-economic purposes.

The launching of IRS-1A satellite marked a major breakthrough in the country’s efforts to utilise remote-sensing techniques for continuous monitoring of natural resources.

India launched itself into a major space power with the successful placing of 870-kg satellite, IRS-P2, using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The PSLV-D2 launch enabled India to join the select band of countries that have the capacity of hurling into space 1000 kg satellites.


1962: Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) formed by the department of atomic energy.

1963: Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) established to make INSITU measurements of super atmospheric parameters.

1965: The space science and technology centre established in Thumba as a research and development laboratory.

1967: Earth station for satellite tele-communication set up at Ahmedabad for training and research.

1972-76: A number of air-borne remote sensing experiments conducted.

1975: First indigenously developed spacecraft, Aryabhata, is launched from USSR.

1975-79: In the area of satellite communication, ISRO conducted two large-scale experiments relevant to India’s communication needs. They were Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) and Satellite Telecommunication Experiment Project (STEP).

Under SITE, developmental programmes were telecast direct to community receivers in 2,400 villages using the American satellite. Similarly, with the aid of Franco-German symphonia spacecraft, a series of innovative communication experiments were conducted under STEP.

1979: Aryabhata was followed by Bhaskara-I, an experimental earth observation satellite. It carried TV camera and microwave radiometer payloads for earth observation studies in hydrology forestry, snow melting and oceanography.

1980: India builds its own Satellite Launch Vehicle SLV-3. The four-stage solid propellant SLV-3, during its three successful flights in 1980-81 and 1983, orbited Indian-built Rohini series satellites.

1981: India’s first experimental geostationary communication satellite, APPLE, successfully launched on-board the European space agency’s Ariane launch vehicle from Kourou in French Guyana. This was followed by the launch of India’s second satellite for earth observation, Bhaskara-II, from the former Soviet Union.

1983: INSAT-IB, India’s multipurpose domestic satellite is launched by American space shuttle, Challenger.

1984: The first joint Indo-Soviet manned space mission completed successfully. Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma becomes the first Indian to soar into space.

1987: Indian space programme suffered a temporary set-back when the first launch of the second generation satellite launch vehicle ASLV failed on March 24, 1987.

1988: 2nd ASLV launch fails. India’s first remote sensing satellite IRS-1A launched.

1990: INSAT-ID, the last in the series of first generation INSAT satellites, hoisted into space by the US Delta rocket.

1991: IRS-IB, the second remote sensing satellite launched by the erstwhile Soviet “Mostok” rocket from Baikonur.

1992: The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) successfully launched from Sriharikota. SROSS-C satellite is put into near-earth orbit.

INSAT-2A, the first indigenously built multi-utility satellite is hurled into space by Ariane rocket.

1993: INSAT-2B, the second indigenously fabricated multipurpose satellite placed into orbit by Ariane rocket.

1994: ASLV-D4 successfully launched injecting into low-earth orbit the SROSS-C2 satellite.

PSLV-D2 successfully launched, hurling into polar synchronous orbit 870-kg IRS-P2.

1995: INSAT-2C satellite placed in orbit by Ariane rocket from Kourou in French Guyana on December 7.

1997: IRS-1D, the 1200-kg Indian Remote Sensing Satellite, successfully launched and placed into orbit by indigenously-built PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) on September 29.

1999: On 26 May India successfully launched PSLV-C2 which carried a satellite for Ocean application, Oceansat, and two foreign satellites. With this India broke into global satellite launch service market. Earlier, on April 3, India launched its first commercial telecom satellite, INSAT-2E, from Kourou.

2000: On 22 March INSAT-3B was launched successfully from Kourou. This was first of the INSAT-3 series.

2001: On 18 April, India’s first flight of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D1) blasted off successfully.

On 22 October PSLV-C3, India’s workhorse satellite launch vehicle, was launched successfully.

Indian scientists designed a reusable space plane—Avatar—which can launch satellites at a minimal cost and take tourists on a space ride. The design of the plane was unveiled on 11 July.

2002: On 12 September India’s first full-fledged meteorological satellite, METSAT, was successfully launched on board the PSLV-C4. It was for the first time that the Indian space vehicle carried a 1,000 kg plus payload into a geosynchronous orbit.

2003: On 10 April multipurpose satellite INSAT-3A was successfully launched by the Ariane-5 launch vehicle. INSAT-3A represented an important step in creating and augmenting infrastructure in India for space-based broadcasting, communication and meteorology.

On 8 May India took a major step to becoming global major in satellite launch when the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D2), carrying a communication satellite GSAT-2, was launched successfully.

2004: India’s first educational satellite, EDUSAT, launched by Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle, code-named GSLV-F01, on 20 September. This was also the first operational flight of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

2005: India’s first mapping satellite, CARTOSAT-I and HAMSAT—for enhancing communication for ham operators—placed in orbit on 5 May by India’s warhorse satellite launcher PSLV.

2006: On 10 July an attempt to put in space the heaviest ever satellite using GSLV failed. INSAT 4-C exploded and collapsed into the sea.

2007: On 10 January the 10th Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle put four satellites into orbit, including the 680 kg Indian Remote Sensing Satellite CARTOSAT-2 and Space Capsule Recovery Equipment (SRE-1). The SRE-1 took India into an elite club of countries that have satellite re-entry technology.

On 12 March INSAT-4B communication satellite was successfully launched from Kourou in French Guiana.

On 23 April ISRO successfully launched an Italian satellite, Agila, on board PSLV-C8, the first time a foreign satellite was sent as the main payload. On 2 September GSLV-F04 successfully launched INSAT-4CR into orbit.

2008: On 29 April India created a record of sorts in space history by putting 10 satellites in orbit in a single mission. The PSLV-C9 carried an Indian mini-satellite, eight foreign nano-satellites and the CARTOSAT-2A remote sensing satellite.

On 22 October PSLV-CII launched India’s first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1 which entered the lunar orbit on 7 November. India, thus, became the fifth country in the world to send a spacecraft for scientific exploration of moon.

On 14 November the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), named Aditya, was ejected from Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, to successfully touch down on moon’s surface, thus planting India’s flag on the surface of moon.

2009: On 23 September the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully placed its second Ocean observation satellite Oceansat-2, along with six other nano satellites, including two German Rubinsat—Rubin 9.1 and Rubin 9.2—and four Cubesats—the Beesat (assembled by Technical University, Berlin), UWE-2 (University of Wuerzburg, Germany, ITU-pSat (Istanbul Technical University, Turkey) and SwissCube-1 (Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, Switzerland.

2010: On 12 July five satellites—CARTOSAT, an earth observation satellite, STUDSAT and three foreign satellites—were launched by the ISRO-built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

On 25 December India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F06) exploded in mid-air, making it the second failed attempt in 2010. The rocket was to put into orbit communication satellite GSAT-P5.

2011: The eighteenth mission of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C16) placed the indigenously built 1,206-kg Resourcesat-2 into orbit on 20 April. It also put the two other satellites—Youthsat and X-sat—into their orbit.

On 21 May India successfully launched its advanced GSAT-8 satellite on board Arianespace rocket from Kourou in French Guiana, primarily aimed at augmenting India’s direct-to-home TV broadcast services.

On 15 July India launched its latest communication satellite, GSAT-12, on-board the PSLV-C17 rocket, using the most powerful configuration of ISRO’s workhorse launch vehicle.

On 12 October PSLV-C18, successfully put four nano-satellites in orbit, including Jugnu, India’s first indigenously designed nano-satellite.

2012: On 26 April a microwave Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-1) was successfully launched by PSLV’s upgraded variant called PSLV-XL. This was the heaviest luggage so far ferried by a PSLV since 1993.

On 9 September PSLV-C21 put in orbit two foreign satellites—the French SPOT-6 and the Japanese micro-satellite Proiteres—marking the 100th space mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which started the journey in 1975 with the launch of its first satellite Aryabhata.

On 29 September India’s advanced communication satellite, GSAT-10, was successfully launched. This was the second satellite in INSAT/GSAT constellation with GAGAN payload.

2013: On 25 February in a multiple launch mission, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C20) put India-French satellite SARAL and six others into their precise orbits. SARAL was designed to help in oceanographic studies as also help researchers to study the development of climate.

On 28 May ISRO opened them main navigation centre at Byalalu, near Bengaluru, for the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), a constellation of seven spacecraft to enable users to know their location and time accurately.

On 1 July India’s first dedicated navigational satellite, IRNSS-1A, was successfully launched by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C22). IRNSS will provide two types of services—Standard Positioning Service or SPS (similar to the Global Positioning Service or the GPS) which will be available to all the users and Restricted Service (RS), an encrypted service that will be provided only to authorised users.

On 26 July India’s advanced meteorological satellite, INSAT-3D, was successfully launched by a European, giving a boost to weather forecasting and disaster warning services.

On 30 August India’s first exclusive defence satellite, GSAT-7, christened “Rukmini”, was successfully launched.

On 5 November creating history, India’s Mars orbiter mission blasted off from Sriharikota. The Mission was primarily a technological one, considering the critical operations and stringent requirements on propulsion and other bus systems of spacecraft. One of the main objectives was to develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission. The satellite carried compact science experiment instruments. There were five instruments to study Martian surface, atmosphere and mineralogy.

2014: On 5 January, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Development-5 (GSLV-D5) lifted off smoothly from Sriharikota, finally cracked the cryogenic puzzle. Until the launch, India was taking the help of French rockets to place its communication satellites in orbit. ISRO became the sixth space agency in the world after the US, Russia, Japan, China and France to have tasted success with an indigenous cryogenic engine. It put in orbit GSAT-14, India’s 23rd geostationary communication satellite.

On 4 April, ISRO successfully launched IRNSS-1B, using PSLV-C24.

On 30 June, ISRO successfully launched the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C23, which carried SPOT-7, a 714 kg, French earth observing satellite, as the main payload. The satellite was launched under commercial arrangements that ANTRIX, ISRO’s commercial arm, entered into with the respective foreign agencies. Countries which have sent their satellites using PSLV rocket system include UK, Denmark, Austria, France, Singapore, Switzerland, Israel, Italy, Belgium, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Argentina, The Netherlands, Algeria and Luxembourg.

On 16 October, ISRO launched its third navigation satellite IRNSS-1C, on board its PSLV rocket.

On 7 December, India’s advanced communication satellite GSAT-16 was successfully launched by the Ariane-5 launch vehicle VA221 of Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana.

On 18 December, ISRO successfully launched its heaviest rocket GSLV Mk III, which is conceived and designed to make India fully self-reliant in launching heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4500 to 5000 kg. The 42.4 m tall three stage vehicle carried CARE (Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment) as its payload—a dummy crew module which went up to a height of 120 km and then descended. The idea was to test whether its heat shield can survive very high temperatures during its re-entry into the atmosphere, as also test the recovery of a dummy crew module from sea. The experiment also witnessed the largest parachute in action ever made in the country.

2015: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched India’s fourth navigation satellite, IRNSS-1D, on 28 March, using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), in its twenty-ninth flight (PSLV-C27).

On 10 July 2015, in its thirtieth flight, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C28 successfully put in orbit five UK satellites that together weighted around 1,440 kg at lift-off, making it the heaviest commercial launch ever undertaken by the national space agency.

India’s biggest multi-application solar telescope (MAST) was inaugurated at the Udaipur Solar Observatory on 4 August 2015. It would help in the study of movements of stars and sun even in day time. The Physical Research Laboratory of Ahmedabad will take care of the project.

On 27 August 2015, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D6), in its 9th flight, successfully put in orbit GSAT-6 communication satellite. GSAT-6 was India’s 25th geostationary communication satellite and twelfth in the GSAT series.

In its thirty first flight, conducted on 28 September 2015, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) successfully launched Astrosat, India’s Multi Wavelength Space Observatory, along with six foreign customer satellites—four from the US and one each from Indonesia and Canada. Dedicated to astronomy, Astrosat is a miniature version of the Hubble, the US-European joint space observatory.

GSAT-15, India’s newest communications satellite, was launched successfully on 11 November 2015, from Kourou in French Guiana in South America. It will replace the ageing Insat-3A and 4B spacecraft.

On 16 December 2015, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle’s core alone variant (PSLV-C29), launched six Singaporean satellites. Of the six satellites, the 400 kg earth observation satellite, called TeLEOS-1 (Singapore’s first commercial earth observation satellite), was the main passenger, hence the mission was called TeLEOS mission by ISRO.

2016: The Indian space programme launched ten Indian satellites in 2016, three times more than the preceding year and the most ever. 

On 20 January, PSLV-C31 successfully launched IRNSS-1E, the fifth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. The sixth satellite was launched in March 2016 and seventh in April 2016. The IRNSS has come to be known as the country’s own GPS. Its nerve centre, the ISRO Navigation Centre, is at Byalalu on the outskirts of Bengaluru and is part of the 21 ground locations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi christened the system NAVIC—Navigation with Indian Constellation.

On 23 May, ISRO successfully test-launched its maiden winged reusable launch vehicle (RLV) from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Known as hyper-sonic flight experiment, RLV-TD is described as “a very preliminary step” in the development of a reusable rocket.

On 22 June, in its thirty sixth flight (PSLV-C34), Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle successfully launched the 727.5 kg CARTOSAT-2 Series Satellite along with 19 co-passenger satellites.

On 26 September, PSLV C-35, launched SCATSAT-1 meant for ocean and weather studies. PSLV rocket also carried two Indian university satellites, three from Algeria and one each from US and Canada. For the first time in its mission, the PSLV launched its payloads in two different orbits.

2017: On February 15, ISRO launched a rocket that put 104 satellites into orbit around the earth, breaking a world record as it did so.

On May 5, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F09) successfully launched the 2230 kg South Asia Satellite (GSAT-9)  into its planned Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). South Asia Satellite is a communication satellite built by ISRO to provide a variety of communication services over the South Asian region.

On 23 June, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C38 successfully launched the 712 kg CARTOSAT-2 Series Satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites.

On 29 June, GSAT-17 became India’s third communication satellite to successfully reach orbit in the past two months.  It was launched using the European Ariane 5 Launch Vehicle from Kourou, French Guiana.

On 31 August, the launch of IRSO’s eight navigation satellite IRNSS-1H, on-board PSLV-C39,  was unsuccessful. The heat shield did not separate, as a result of which the fourth stage of the launch failed.

2018: On 12 January, ISRO  successfully sent up Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle or PSLV carrying India’s 100th satellite, CARTOSAT-2 series satellite, along with 30 others. The mission was a unique one, since the satellites were launched in two orbits. This was done through what scientists call the “multiple burn technology” under which the rocket’s engine is switched off and then switched on to control its height.


April 3, 1984, was a historic day for India when the country achieved yet another distinction in space—Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, test pilot of the IAF, became the first Indian to soar into space. Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was the world’s 138th cosmonaut and the 11th to fly with Soviet cosmonauts in the inter-cosmos programme. India was the 14th nation to have sent its citizen into space.


On 22 October 2008, PSLV-CII launched India’s first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-I, which entered the lunar orbit on 7 November 2008. India thus became the fifth country in the world to send a spacecraft to moon.

On 14 November 2008, the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), named Aditya ejected from Chandrayaan-I, successfully touched down on moon surface, thus planting India’s flag on the moon.

Five minutes before midnight on 20 August 2009, India’s Moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, crossed an important milestone when it teamed up with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in search of water ice.

Both the spacecraft moved simultaneously picking up data. The historic combined flight was tracked by ISRO’s deep space network at Byalalu, Bangalore and NASA’s deep space network and Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, US.

Both spacecraft were equipped with radar instruments—Mini-Sar (Synthetic Aperture Radar) on Chandrayaan-1 and Mini-Rf on LRO. The two instruments targeted the same spot on the Moon from different angles, with Chandrayaan-1’s radar transmitting a signal which was reflected off interior of Erlanger Crater. This was picked up by LRO.

On 30 August 2009, the mission had to be called off, much ahead of its scheduled life, due to snapping of radio link.


On 24 September 2014, India created history, becoming the first country in the world to succeed on its first Mars mission as ISRO’s Mangalyaan successfully slipped into Martian orbit after a few nail-biting moments. The spacecraft had blasted off from Sriharikota on 5 November 2013

India is also the first Asian country to send successfully send a spacecraft to Mars. The country joined the United States, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers with the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately called MOM.

India’s feat gained significance in the light of the fact that more than half the world’s previous attempts—23 out of 41 Mars missions—failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

MOM’s scientific goals included using of five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. Mangalyaan also searched Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.


Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC): The steps to evolve the knowhow for satellite technology were taken by the late Dr S. Vikram Sarabhai. He set up, in 1970, the Satellite Systems Division (SSD) as part of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Trivandrum with Prof U.R. Rao as its head.

Indian Scientific Satellite Project (ISSP): The actual implementation of this task was taken up by Prof Satish Dhawan who took charge of ISRO in 1972. The Indian Scientific Satellite Project was set up at Peenya near Bangalore under Prof U.R. Rao. It was meant to design and fabricate satellites indigenously.

Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad (Gujarat): is responsible for the various aspects of space application particularly in the field of satellite communications, remote sensing and meteorology.

GMRT: The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) is an array of 30 saucer-shaped dish antennas, laid out in a y-shaped formation, over a 25 sq km area near Khoddad, 80 km north of Pune. It is the world’s most powerful radio telescope at metrewave lengths. The GMRT provided a tremendous boost to radio astronomy science in India.

Space Antenna at Byalalu: A 32-metre antenna to track the lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-I and similar missions in future has been set up at Byalalu in Karnataka.

Experimental Satellite Communications Earth Station: India’s first satellite communications earth station was set up at Arvi near Pune. It operates through the Intelsat-III satellite positioned over the Indian Ocean. The second such station has been set up at Dehra Dun.

Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad: is engaged in the task of development in space science and technology.

World’s highest observatory in Leh: The world’s highest observatory centre is located at mount Saraswat Hanley, about 300 kms from Leh. The observatory has been built by Indian Institute of Astrophysics and is capable of imaging the universe in both the visible and infrared wave-lengths.