December 18, 2014 / 7:13 AM / 3 years ago

India tests its heaviest space launch vehicle, eyes global market

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's space agency successfully tested on Thursday its most powerful satellite launch vehicle that can put heavier payloads into space, and, it hopes, win India a bigger slice of the $300 billion global space industry.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) also checked the working of an unmanned crew module on the vehicle, which could give the agency the option of manned missions.

Once operational, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III will be able to put satellites weighing about 4 tonnes into orbit, almost doubling India's current capability.

"The powerful launch vehicle ... will change our destiny in placing various spacecraft into communication orbits," said S. Somnath, project director of the new GSLV vehicle.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to develop India's 50-year-old space program and the government increased funding for space research by 50 percent to almost $1 billion this financial year.

But ISRO's growth has been stymied by a lack of a heavier launcher and the slow execution of missions. Between 2007 and 2012, it accomplished only about half of its planned 60 missions, government data showed.

Experts said the test of the GSLV took India a step closer to attracting more foreign business which would help Asia's third-largest economy emerge as a stronger player in the global space race.

The experiment on Thursday also helped ISRO test the vehicle's atmospheric stability and its design. It was powered by two engines while a third is under development.

"We still need to put a heavier third engine to ensure this vehicle can be used successfully for manned missions and heavier satellite launches," said Mayank Vahia, a scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

In September, India's Mars Orbiter Mission entered the red planet's orbit, making India the first Asian nation to reach Mars on its first attempt. The mission was lauded for its shoestring budget of about $74 million.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel

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