The recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket sent the space community into an overdrive. Not just was the the rocket a cause for celebration but also the red Tesla Roadster and its dummy driver Starman.
The Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful working booster available and with a capacity of 64 tonnes and reusable rocket stages, it overtakes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Delta-IV Heavy rocket by a significant margin at nearly one-third the cost.
The success of the Falcon Heavy has also given a boost to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is currently developing the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III that would be capable of lifting four tonnes to higher orbits and eight tonnes to lower orbits.
ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan has stated that the agency is looking at possible heavy launchers with a capacity of 50 to 60 tonnes. Some of the required technology such as semi-cryogenic fuel-based propulsion and the reusable launchers are in the early research stage, he told The Hindu.
A super heavy lift vehicle of the future is on the drawing board as part of our R&D. We are doing a lot of preliminary research leading to it. Right now, we are developing a semi-cryogenic engine, which was approved some time back. Next, we must propose a full semi-cryogenic stage (for funding). A lot of work is ahead of us, in this.ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan
While no cost estimate or time frame has been referred to for now, if the project does take-off, it will result in a single two-stage vehicle. The Falcon Heavy, originally proposed over a decade ago in 2005 has reportedly cost $500 million.
If the Government of India does approve the development of such a vehicle, it may require to be future-ready, especially for human missions.
The plan right now, according to Dr Sivan is to try out the semi-cryogenic system at the core of the Mark III in place of its liquid fuel engine but without changing the design. If this is successful, the Mark III would see a boost in its capacity from four to six tonnes. With gradual changes including modular, add-on components the capacity can slowly be increased to ten tonnes before aiming for a much higher number.
Dr Sivan also said that components such as reusable components, re-entry components and stage recovery are in the works. While re-entry was demonstrated in 2016, others are yet to get their turn.