India moves to build a new spaceport in Tamil Nadu

Nearly 83%, or 1,950 out of 2,350 acres, of land has been acquired for the construction of India's second space port. Situated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Kulasekarapattinam is the location of the second spaceport that India is building for the country's space programme. Speaking in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, Dr Jitendra Singh, who serves as Minister of State for Science and Technology, revealed that the process of acquiring land was underway via the Government of Tamil Nadu.

“The plan is to initially redeploy the existing manpower to oversee the setting up of necessary facilities at the space port and also to carry out critical launch activities,” the minister said. He also said that once the second spaceport is completed, the manpower requirement for operation and maintenance of the facilities will be assessed.

India currently operates one spaceport with two launch pads in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. This facility in Sriharikota has witnessed launches since the late 1970s. From 1993 onwards, this facility also saw the launch of PSLV and, thereafter, the GSLV and GSLV Mk3 rockets. Sriharikota offers various advantages as an ideal launch site. 

Situated on the East Coast and at a position nearer to the equator, rockets launched from here are aided by the additional velocity of Earth's West-East rotation. This effect of this rotation is felt closest to the equator and is almost nil at the earth's poles. This effect mainly benefits launches into equatorial orbits (orbits above the earth's equator).

Situated just adjacent to the sea, rockets launched from Sriharikota fly eastwards, soar above the sea. So, in the case of mishaps, the rocket and its debris would only fall on the sea, thus avoiding any major catastrophe.

While Sriharikota is ideal for launching heavier rockets, a major challenge crops up when launching smaller rockets—such as ISRO's upcoming Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, which is meant for launching 500kg satellites. Sriharikota presents a challenge when rockets are launched into polar orbit (circling the Earth above the poles). 

While a rocket travels towards the South Pole from Sriharikota, the rocket would have to overfly the island nation of Sri Lanka. Given the immense risk of overflying a country, India's rockets are programmed to perform a manoeuvre to avoid the Lankan landmass. So, instead of flying in a straight line, the rocket follows a curved path and takes a turn.

The rocket would have to burn a reasonable amount of fuel. While larger rockets can perform this manoeuvre without much impact on the rocket's payload carrying capacity, smaller rockets such as SSLV would lose a lot of fuel doing so. 

Losing fuel for the turn would mean that the rocket's payload carrying capacity is reduced. Hence, India had been looking for a location from where the smaller rockets could be launched in a straight line, without the risk of overflying Lanka. 

Situated in Tamil Nadu's southern region, Kulasekarapattinam is a location in the Tuticorin district. When launching from here, the smaller rockets such as SSLV (which is expected to have its maiden flight in August 2022) and the rockets being built by Indian start-ups can save on fuel and fly a straight approach towards the pole. 

Given that smaller rockets are easier to build, assemble, and launch with less time in comparison to their larger counterparts, it is important for India to have a dedicated spaceport for such smaller rockets. Notably, smaller rockets are also attractive to foreign and domestic customers who are looking to launch small satellites at low costs.