ISRO scripts history
At 12:07 AM on 23rd October 2022, ISRO scripted history and firmly placed India into the global commercial space market showing that we are here to stay.
Picture obtained from the Internet What happened?
, due credit to respective owners.
The GSLV Mk3 (rechristened to LVM3) placed into Low Earth Orbit 36 satellites for OneWeb.
It was many firsts for the ISRO, a few of which I have listed below.
1. The heaviest payload on an Indian Rocket to date.
2. The first commercial mission for the GSLV Mk3.
3. The first multi-satellite mission for India. The prelude
The story of how I got to see this launch has its beginnings in 2019.
Chandrayaan-2 was launched in 2019 from Sriharikota and it was something I wanted to see. However, I was unable to considering the launch was during the day and I was on the organising committee for an upcoming cultural event. A few of my juniors had gone to see the launch and watching their Instagram Stories and WhatsApp statuses gave a little heartburn and I made a promise to myself saying that I would watch the next rocket launch.
However, that day never came until today. There were several rockets launched between then and now but I had forgotten all about that promise amid college and life in general. The planning
Fast forward to 22nd October 2022 and it was a lazy Saturday morning when I saw the news of the LVM3 launch that night. Reading that reignited the fire of wanting to watch a launch but was doused by my mundane and routine life.
The article said it was a 24 hour countdown and that the rocket would launch at 12:07 AM on 23rd. I was reading this at 8:30 AM on 22nd which gave me 16 hours to get there for the launch. Not a very difficult proposition considering I was hardly a 100 kms away and had a lot of time on my hands since I wasn't working and was preparing for my PG exams.
Sent a text to a friend of mine who has been my partner in crime since the time we were in our 2nd grade and he readily agreed to it. (Let's call him K)
So it was set, I was finally going to see a rocket launch and it was going to be at night. The adrenaline rush ensured that i didn't study for the rest of the day and kept me on my toes dancing around the house, with my mother asking me to pipe it down. I thought getting permission might be difficult and was planning for different alternatives but I received the go ahead as soon as I asked.
Everything was set except for the site from which I could watch the launch from. A quick Google search told me that if I had planned earlier, I could have booked passes to the official ISRO viewing gallery which has a seating capacity of 5000 people inside the Sathish Dhawan Space Centre some 6 KMs away from the launch pad. The site opens for registrations some 10 days before the launch and an ID proof is all that is required to register for the same. This is the link in case anybody is interested in watching future launches: https://lvg.shar.gov.in/VSCREGISTRATION/index.jsp
Now that this was out of the option, I searched on Google again and it led me to this blog (https://siva.dev/seeing-indian-rocket-launches/
) which gave a location that was somewhere around 11 or 12 KMs away from the launch site.
I have been to Sriharikota once before on my motorcycle in 2017 and distinctly remember the road from Sulurpetta to the Space Center, both sides of which are the Pulicat Lake. I remembered seeing a View Point on the side of the road and a Google satellite image told me I would be 8 kms away from the launch site at this location. I considered it to be a good trade-off considering the improptu nature of the plan and the fact the rocket would be heading skyward any way and I would be able to spot it a second or 2 later if not immediately.
My only consideration with this spot was the question of whether the general public would even be allowed onto that stretch of road during a rocket launch.
To put this into context, here's a map showing 3 pinned locations. (I couldn't mark them in different colors, so please make do with the description given below)
The one you see on the road connecting the Sriharikota Island to the main land is the one I mentioned.
The one that appears a little to the right seemingly in the middle of the water is the location mentioned in the blog.
The farthest one inside the space centre is the launch pad itself.
Do you see the problem yet?
The road connecting the Sriharikota Island to the mainland also connects a few villages along the way and hence makes it public access roads, it is along one of these roads that the spot the blog mentions is located. However, the spot I've marked leads directly to the space centre and has no other branches or deviations, hence it would be perfectly normal to control access to that stretch of road by security forces.
I sent these locations to K, told him the situation and like we always do, we decided we'll deal with it when we get there. We decided to leave at around 9 PM since Maps told us it might take 3 hours to reach with all traffic considered.
The next part has a few details about the launch vehicle, so skip ahead if you want to read about the journey. Trivia about the launch:
Unable to study for the rest of the day, I whiled my time away reading news articles on the GSLV Mk3 and the reason for why this launch would be considered a huge success by the Indian Space Industry.
The reason for India getting the task of placing the satellites was a result of the Russia - Ukraine war. OneWeb had previously used the Russian launch station for the launch of its satellites. However, due to EU sanctions as a result of the war, Russia was ruled out and India came to the rescue.
The GSLV Mk-3 is a launch vehicle that places satellites into the Geostationary orbit at around 35,700 KMs away from the Earth and can carry a payload of 4.3 tons. However, the same vehicle can carry a payload of 10 tons to the Low Earth orbit (2,000kms away from the Earth). When used for such a mission, the vehicle is renamed as Launch Vehicle Mark 3, which is why the name of this rocket launch was LVM3 M2.
The M2 signifies that this is the 2nd mission for this specific launch vehicle. The first was for testing of a CARE module(Crew Atmospheric Re Entry Module) that brings astronauts back to Earth.
Now, back to the journey at hand. The Journey
The car that was chosen for this journey was the 2013 Alto 800 LXi, it has been in the family for nearly 9 years and has been reliable, there's nothing special to write about, it does it's job well as long as you drive it sedately and don't consider yourself to be Max Verstappen.
At around 8:45 PM, I started from my house and went to pick K up. Stopped to get a few munchies along the way considering that we're driving to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night and there definitely will not be any shops. The 24 year old in me correctly picked out a bottle of coke, a few biscuit packets and a bottle of chewing gum while conveniently forgetting water bottles, which we didn't realise until we were thirsty and tired of the coke we bought along.
As always, the plan to start at 9 PM actually started at 9:30, since I reached his house only at 9:20 and he came out at 9:30. As a last minute addition to the already last minute plan, his colleague also joined us. (Let's call him M)
The route we took was the Annanagar - Kolathur - Madhavaram - Puzhal - Tada - Sullurpeta along the NH16. (Grand Northern Trunk Road)
The last time I was on this route was when our family went to Kalahasti in 2019 and the roads were the absolute worst back then. Riddled with potholes all the way to Puzhal and then bad patchwork all the way to Tada, not including the N number of diversions into non existent service roads from the main highway. Expecting the same kind of bad roads, and hoping that the reworked suspension on the car would hold up, we set off.
Traffic was the usual city like and only until the Madhavaram junction which was a surprise in itself since most times I've been on this road, the traffic has been bumper-bumper until Puzhal and with the Deepavali shopping/travel, I expected it to be much higher. The roads have also been re-laid if I'm not wrong, since the number of pot holes and bad patchwork have considereably reduced, so have the number of diversions to the service roads and those few diversions have properly laid service roads.
After the Madhavaram Junction, we were able to make good time with very sedate driving. K had slept in the back seat and M gave me company, trading stories of our colleges and work and how different things look from the outside world in each of our fields.
For some context, I'm a doctor, K is a Product designer and M is a mechanical engineer.
We were able to reach the exit to Sulurpetta by 11:20 PM. Please note that there are no boards mentioning the exit and the sole board comes up some 50 metres before the exit giving very less reaction time to make it. So please use Maps to correlate and avoid missing the exit.
We were able to see a number of AP police personnel all along the way from the exit. It wasn't like TN where they stand 10m from each other all the way from one location to another, but more like 2 or 3 people at every major junction. We weren't stopped or asked for the purpose of our visit and we happily went our way. The roads from the exit were well laid and well maintained and had a significant CCTV presence. They weren't jam packed but there was a signifcant presence of people all along, a few cars and even buses but mostly motorcycles, autos, most of which where local villagers/townspeople coming along to have a look.
The mood was jubiliant, everyone having a feeling that India was doing something huge and the feeling was contagious and it caught on to us. We woke K up and then came the question of location, we decided we'll try our luck with the spot I had mentioned and if we weren't allowed, we'd go to the one mentioned in the blog.
The road,as I feared, was indeed access controlled, but just before the CISF(to be honest, it could have been any branch, he was dressed in green fatigues) personnel came up to our car, someone talked to him and he let us through and all vehicles behind us without asking for a permit or anything of the sort. Happy that we were able to get closer to the launch site, we headed on.
On the road heading to the space centre, there were many view points and not one like I remembered, however only one was visible on the satellite view in Google. There was also a watchtower but there were already two cars and a significant number of people there already. These viewpoints and watchtowers are for those bird watchers who come to watch migratory birds who arrive in the Pulicat Lake. The lake is famous for its flamingoes in the month of January.
As we arrived at our spot, it was already 11:45 PM and there were 2 cars already with some 10 people, probably a large family, and the view point was hardly enough for them itself. We were confused if we should also try using the same spot or go ahead and search for a better one. We decided we'll stay right there since it was already late and just enjoy the view we could get.
The next thing was to find the orientation of the launch tower.
Sriharikota is an island that has dense vegitation and hence it isn't easy to spot the launch tower. Indeed, from our location, all we could see was trees and a few lights. The space centre looked like any random government complex and there was no way we could spot the launch tower beyond those trees.
Google Maps came to our rescue and we were able to find out that the best view could be had from the road or a little left of it since the second launch pad is a little to the left of the road from the point where we were standing. Now convinced that we had a good spot and there was no necessity to disturb the family in the view point, we decided we'd capture the launch from the middle of the road. As the clock struck 12, vehicles were no longer on the road and everyone was waiting for the clock to strike 12:07. As we waited, we switched on the youtube live stream from the official ISRO page for the countdown. The page shows visuals from the official viewing gallery I had described above. (More on this later)
The launch was spectacular and is something I cannot describe in words. I will let the video do the talking.
The launch lit up the night sky bright and it was a few seconds after this bright light that we heard the sound of the launch, hence proving what my physics teacher taught me in 9th standard, that light travels faster than sound. I also felt a heatwave for one second, but not trusting myself, checked with both K and M who confirmed that they felt it too.
The stage separation might not be seen clearly on the video but was clearly visualised by our eyes and what a sight it was.
The youtube livestream told us that the rocket was on it's intended path and by the time we left Sulurpetta, the rocket had done it's intended mission and placed all the satellites in their orbit.
The return journey was uneventful except for the lack of water and shops to buy them from. There are a few dhabas along the way, however none were open at this time of the night. All in all, it was worth the 200 KMs we drove to watch those 3 minutes.
I came back at 3 AM in the morning to my house and slept a happy man. Observations
1. If I were to do this a second time, I would still prefer to watch the launch from outside the space centre rather than inside from the official gallery. The announcements on the PA system seemed more like a hindrance rather than something I'd enjoy and the view I got was good too. However, this pass also lets you view a museum/gallery inside the premises and that's something I might be interested in.
2. If I were to do this in the summer months, a blog suggested to get down into the lake bed and walk until you can see the launch tower quite clearly with their radio towers as seen on official photos. Apparently the lake is not deep and is only 3 feet at most spots even in the winter months, however, I was not adventerous enough to try it. If someone does please let me know.
3. I haven't experienced a launch at day, but the launch at night I believe is much more spectacular than the day, what with the lighting up of the sky.
4. It's very very safe for women. However basic common sense still applies, for everyone.
5. Would I do this again? Yes, especially if I'm taking friends along.
6. Is there any other way other than driving down? This isn't first hand information but simply collated from the blogs I read through. There are local trains to Sulurpetta from Chennai Central. From Sulurpetta, buses/autos are available to these locations and the auto drivers would know much better spots I reckon. However, if it's a night launch like this one, there is only one hotel in Sulurpetta which might require prior booking.
7. Do I have the best location? Absolutely not, there appear to be much more better spots which have better views as I have found out when I was reading blogs after the event, but if any of you have already done this and know any such spot, please do share.
8. Ensure you fill fuel before you enter Andhra. The price difference in fuel between the 2 states is huge, so ensure you have enough fuel for some 70-80 kilometres atleast (up and down) before you enter Andhra.
9. The launch can also be seen from Chennai but would appear as a small speck and such clear details would not be visible. The direction to look at would be North-North-East.
I haven't got any photos from this trip as I never intended to make a travelogue out of it.
If you have read it till here, thank you, this is my first travelogue on T-BHP and advice/tips are highly appreciated.