November 16, 2018 @ 11:45 am

16 NOVEMEBR 2018 

Another orbit

The GSLV-GSAT launch enhances India’s capacity to meet its communication needs

The Indian Space Research Organisation has marked a big milestone by successfully testing its heavy-lift launcher while launching an advanced communication satellite. It plans to use this for the Chandrayaan-II moon mission in the early months of 2019. On Wednesday the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle MarkIII (GSLV MkIII) launched GSAT29, an advanced communications satellite, into a geosynchronous transfer orbit where the satellite’s closest approach to earth would be 190 km and the farthest 35,975 km. The launcher bearing the 3,423 kg satellite took off from a launchpad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota. Seventeen minutes later, after various stages, the vehicle injected the satellite into the transfer orbit. Taking over smoothly, ISRO’s master control facility at Hassan assumed the command and control of the satellite, and it will be manoeuvred into a geostationary orbit, its final destination, in days. Once placed, the satellite’s solar panels and antennae will unfold and work will begin. With a liftoff mass of 640 tonnes, the GSLV MkIII is the heaviest launch vehicle made in India, and GSAT29 is the heaviest satellite to take off from Indian soil. Both launcher and satellite have other characteristics that make them stand out. The launcher can carry payloads up to 4 tonnes to the geosynchronous transfer orbit and up to 10 tonnes to a low-earth orbit. The multi-band, multi-beam satellite can cater to the communication needs of people in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

The first successful experimental flight of the GSLV MkIII was in 2014 when it carried a dummy crew module as a payload. This proved its capacity in the atmospheric flight regime. Its first developmental flight was on June 5, 2017, when it launched GSAT19, weighing 3,136 kg. The present launch marked the second developmental flight of the MkIII. With these two successes, the launcher is declared ‘operational’ and joins the ranks of the working vehicles, the PSLV and the GSLV. This is far fewer than the number of developmental flights the older launch vehicles were subjected to. This is because the solid and liquid propellant stages had been tested before. The third cryogenic stage could establish its performance in just two developmental flights. Of course, these were preceded by numerous experimental flights and ground-based tests. This success sets the stage for trying out variations such as other types of engines, different fuel combinations and higher launch capacity. The GSLV MkIII has not just boosted the satellite into its orbit, but also restored morale at ISRO, which had been dented by the GSAT 6A setback.

Gaza on the brink

Israel and Hamas need to pull back to allow humanitarian intervention in the territory

The sudden flare-up in Gaza between Palestinian militant groups and Israel is another grim reminder that the situation in the blockaded Mediterranean strip remains precarious. The latest violence was triggered by a botched spy operation by Israeli commandos inside Gaza that killed seven Palestinians, including a Hamas military commander. Hamas, which controls the territory, and Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells into Israel in retaliation. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire, hitting scores of military posts and weapons depots across Gaza. They levelled television and radio stations as well as Hamas’s military intelligence headquarters. It was the heaviest Israeli attack since the 2014 war on the impoverished enclave of 1.82 million people. Now, Gaza is staring at the prospect of a fourth war in a decade. The territory has been on the brink for years. In past wars, Israel inflicted enormous havoc on the enclave’s public infrastructure and caused high human casualties, while in retaliation Hamas fired rockets into Israel’s civilian areas. Israel has also imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the region in a bid to stop Hamas from amassing more weapons and to weaken its hold over the strip. But Hamas continues to control Gaza, having found multiple ways to smuggle in weapons, while ordinary Gazans bear the brunt of the blockade. Joblessness is 40%. The administration has no control on exports or imports, and is not even paying full salaries to government employees. Due to scarcity of diesel, there are extended power cuts. Sewage plants are not operational. In effect, Israel has imposed collective punishment.

The situation has been particularly tense in recent months. In March, thousands of Palestinians marched towards the border, demanding their right to return to the homes and lands their families were expelled from in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, immediately after the creation of the state of Israel. About 750,000 Palestinians were estimated to have been forced out of their homes during the war. The March of Return protests continued on the border since then, and have often been met with live bullets fired by Israeli soldiers. Since March, at least 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and thousands of others wounded. It was against this background that Egypt and Qatar stepped in, offering to mediate talks and provide much-needed resources to the enclave. Israel initially responded positively, letting fuel tanks and Qatari money into Gaza. That should have set the stage for further dialogue, but Israel’s undercover mission inside the enclave sabotaged it, triggering the current crisis. After both sides announced a ceasefire, violence on the border continued, underscoring how dangerous the situation is. They should restrain themselves, allowing peace efforts led by Egypt to continue. Gaza needs aid, not another war.

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