The first Indian rocket, a sounding
or RH-75, was launched in 1967. It diameter
was 75 mm and it weighed only 10 kg. It reached a height of
4.2 kms in the sky.
Sounding Rockets: Indian scientists’
first attempt to launch a US-made sounding rocketfrom Thumba
fishing village in 1963 marked the beginning of the country’s
rocket programme. Work on indigenous rockets was started in
old church with the Bishop’s house as an office.
A Space Science and Technology Centre was established in Thumba
in 1965, which was later renamed
Sarabhai Space Centre. Meanwhile in 1965, the 20th session
of the United Nations recognized Thumba as an international
facility open to all members. In 1968, the Thumba Equatorial
Rocket Launching Station was dedicated to the UN.
Alongside, work began on designing and making an Indian sounding
rocket. The first Indian rocket, Rohini-75 or RH-75, weighting
10 Kg was launched on November 20, 1967. It went up to a height
of 4 kms.
Bigger rockets were built in Trombay near Mumbai (formerly
Bombay) at the workshop of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. One
of the rockets, Centaure, was built under an agreement with
France. The first three sounding rockets were built in Mumbai
and the rest in Thumba where a Rocket Fabrication Facility was
commissioned in 1971.
The rockets became bigger with time. The Rohini series, of
Indian sounding rockets, helped study the upper atmosphere.
They include RH-125, RH-200 ,
and RH-560 MKII. The first two – RH-125 and RH-200, called
Menaka, are designed for meteorological research. Menaka-1 carries
a payload upto 55 kms while Menaka-2 up to 75 kms.
Centaure had a diameter of 300 mm and can lift 50 kg of payload
to a height of 160 kms. Rohini-300 is similar to Centaure but
has a different propellant. The single-stage RH-300 can hurl
a payload up to 100kms, while another version can send it up
to 150 kms. The largest RH-560 sounding rocket can send a 90-kg
payload up to 360 kms.
The sounding rockets were used to develop and test several
sub-systems for advanced rockets and evaluate more powerful
propellants. For example, RH-125 was used to study the separation
of rocket stages in flight, and how to destroy in case the rocket
goes off-course. Similarly, three RH-125 rockets were clustered
together to serve as a big booster.
Scientists also tested payload recovery systems, deployable
antenna that need to be safeguarded during the rocket’s
passage through the dense atmosphere layers, and the rocket’s
nose cone that is ejected before the payload separates.