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De-orbiting PS4 stage in PSLV-C56 Mission
Illustration showing the deorbiting plan the PS4 stage from a recent PSLV launch.
De-orbiting PS4 stage in PSLV-C56 Mission
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Aug 11, 2023

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) accomplished a milestone in its latest mission PSLV-C56. Not only did the PSLV-C56 vehicle precisely place the DS-SAR satellite and six accompanying satellites into a 536 km circular Low Earth Orbit (LEO) with a 5-degree inclination, but it also took commendable steps in addressing the rising concern of space debris.

Within 20 minutes of lift-off on July 30, 2023, the Onboard Navigation, Guidance, and Control system facilitated the accurate placement of these satellites into their targeted orbits. However, the mission's success extended beyond satellite deployment. With growing apprehension surrounding the increasing number of satellites in LEO, particularly around the 536 km altitude, ISRO exhibited forward-thinking measures to ensure minimal orbital congestion.

If left unchecked, the PS4 stage of the vehicle-essentially a spent component-would continue to orbit Earth for over two and a half decades. Recognizing the long-term repercussions of this, and in a move to actively reduce space debris, ISRO initiated a descent of the PS4 stage from its initial 536 km altitude to a lower 300 km circular orbit.

This maneuver, an effort to adhere to India's commitment to global space debris mitigation, was achieved by recalibrating the Onboard Guidance Algorithm. To accomplish this descent, the Orbit Change Thrusters, which are low thrust engines, were activated on two separate occasions.

ISRO's diligence didn't stop at repositioning the PS4 stage. In sync with conventional launch procedures and emphasizing the organization's dedicated approach towards space safety, the PS4 Stage underwent passivation post the re-orbiting process. For those unfamiliar with space terminologies, passivation is a practice to render a satellite or a spent stage dormant. In the context of the PS4 stage, it entailed the venting of all pressurized compartments such as Tanks and Gas bottles.

This step was instrumental in releasing any retained energy or potentially hazardous materials. By doing so, ISRO ensured that the risks associated with pressurized compartment failures, which could lead to fragmentation of the spent stage in orbit, were significantly mitigated.

These deliberate actions by ISRO underscore the significance of proactive measures in ensuring the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. As spacefaring nations continue to launch satellites and explore the vast expanse, it becomes paramount to acknowledge and address the potential challenges posed by space debris. ISRO, through its latest mission, not only successfully deployed satellites but also showcased a strong commitment to sustainable space practices.

The PSLV-C56 mission serves as an exemplar in the international space community of how technological advancements can be harmonized with sustainable and responsible practices.

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