Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)

ISRO’s Workhorse

Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)
Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is the space agency of Government of India that conducts space science research for India’s development in space sector. There was a boost in space research after 1945 guided by two scientists- Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha. Subsequently in 1962 the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was setup which later in 1969 became ISRO working under the Department of Atomic Energy.

During 1960s and 1970s, ISRO developed its own launch vehicle in order to strengthen India’s position in space technology network of the region. In 1980s ISRO completed the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Its first launch was in 1979 and final launch was in 1983. Later based on SLV, ISRO developed the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) whose first launch was in 1987 and it was decommissioned after its final launch in 1994.

In 1993, in order to make India self-sufficient in launching Remote Sensing Satellites into Sun-Synchronous orbits, ISRO developed the launch vehicle called Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Prior to the advent of PSLV, India was dependent to Russia for launch of Remote Sensing Satellites. Further in 2004, ISRO developed the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) aimed to launch INSAT-type satellites (multipurpose satellites to meet India’s needs in telecommunication, broadcasting, metrology, search and rescue) into geostationary orbit.

Need for An Indigenous Launch Vehicle and Evolution Of PSLV

India has been marching ahead in its Space Technology due to ISRO’s efforts. Evolution and development of space science has numerous benefits like in the sectors of telecommunication, meteorology, defence, etc. and for India it would mean a stronghold on space network in the region. An indigenous launch vehicle like PSLV is essential for development of India’s space Technology. PSLV, a third generation launch vehicle was built for around Rs. 200 crore. Launches from PSLV are quite affordable and with its impressive success rate it has become a reliable launch vehicle not only for India but also for other nations.

The efficiency of PSLV has helped India gain advantage in satellite launching exercises by reducing India’s dependency on other countries. This has on one hand reduced India’s satellite launch expenses and on the other hand has proven to be a great revenue earner for India, as number of other countries approach India for satellite launches from PSLV. Also, PSLV has helped India achieve the record for launching the highest number of satellites to space in a single launch that is 2017, 104 satellites were deployed in Sun-Synchronous orbit. This achievement is a major marker in India’s success story in the field of space science and is inspirational and motivates India’s further advancement in space technology.

ISRO has developed different PSLV variants to cater to different mission requirements. PSLV’s journey started with the standard or generic model-‘PSLV-G’ which had 4 stages using solid and liquid propulsion alternately. This variant had 6 strap-on motors and had the ability  to launch 1678 kg to 622 km into sun-synchronous orbit PSLV-G was discontinued and apart from it, PSLV has the PSLV-Core alone (PSLV-CA) variant which is without the solid strap-on motors and the PSLV-XL which has 6 extended solid strap-on boosters. The launch capability of PSLV-CA is 1100 kg to 622 km into Sun-Synchronous orbit and PSLV-XL which is the upgraded version of base model has capability to launch 1800 kg to Sun-Synchronous orbit. PSLV with its modifications that is PSLV-CA and PSLV-XL is capable of placing multiple payloads into orbit and can also achieve payload launch into multiple orbits in a single launch by using multiple engine restarts.  PSLV is capable of launching satellites both into the geosynchronous as well as geostationary orbit (geosynchronous can have any inclination whereas geostationary is at same plane as equator). PSLV is the 1st launcher of ISRO to be launched with liquid rocket stages and it uses 4 stages (alternate liquid and solid) to launch satellites.

Achievements of PSLV

PSLV’s journey started with a failure- 1st launch in September, 1993 from Satish Dhavan Space Centre. However after this initial setback, PSLV proved its efficiency with 39 consecutive successful launch missions till June,2017. In August 2017, PSLV had another failure. Apart from these 2 failures, PSLV’s basic model had also had a partial failure. PSLV with its 50th launch of advanced radar-imaging earth satellite- RISAR-2BRI in December,2019 has proved itself to be an efficient credible and affordable launch vehicle with a success rate of 94%. PSLV’s capability has attracted number of international clients who opt to launch their satellites from PSLV due to its affordability and efficiency.

As per statistics, PSLV has launched 50 Indian and about 310 foreign satellites by 2019. PSLV has had many notable launches like India’s first lunar satellite- Chandrayaan-1,  India’s 1st Mars orbiter satellite- Mangalyaan (2013), India’s 1st space observatory- Astrosat (2015). Apart from these the February 2017 launch by PSLV- C37 successfully deploying 104 satellites which created a new record, November 2019 launch by PSLV-C47  successfully deploying Cartosat-3 along with 13 commercial nano-satellites of USA, December 2019 launch of PSLV-C48 deploying RISAT-2BRI are other notable success stories of PSLV. Due to this efficiency and reliability PSLV apart from foreign countries depending on it, PSLV is considered as ISRO’s workhorse.


ISRO has been repeatedly proving its efficiency in developing India’s space research programme. With use of efficient launch vehicles like PSLV, ISRO has successfully launched numerous satellites like Cartosat, Mangalyaan, Chandrayaan-1; the India Regional Navigantion Satellite System (IRNSS) series, etc. This has helped India develop in fields of meteorology, telecommunication, defense, and other areas. PSLV has established India as a rapidly developing nation in space technology. With its 50th launch completion in 2019, PSLV has created history and is expected to deliver successful launches for ISRO in the future. Besides helping in space research, PSLV has also benefitted India economically as a source of revenue. PSLV is known as ISRO’s workhorse and rightly so as it has proved its capability repeatedly since it was developed. PSLV forms a significant part of ISRO’s space programme and hence is important from India’s point of view of development in space science.



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