PSLV – Space Launch Report

PSLV - Space Launch Report

India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) introduced the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) series in 1993. PSLV, designed to lift 1.5 metric ton satellites to sun synchronous polar orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, Sriharikota, India, is a conglomerate of Indian and European components.

PSLV performance was progressively improved during the 1990s. The operational “C” version, first flown in 1997, stands 44.4 meters tall and weighs 295 metric tons at liftoff. It consists of four stages that use solid and liquid propellants alternately.

The first stage uses a 2.8 meter diameter, 20 meter long, 472 ton thrust solid motor that burns 138 tons of propellant for 107 seconds. The first stage is augmented by six solid strap-on boosters that produce 67.5 tons of thrust each for 45 seconds. Four of the strap-on boosters ignite at liftoff. The two air-start strap-ons ignite 25 seconds after liftoff. The strap-on boosters are jettisonned after burn-out.  More powerful “XL” boosters carrying 12 tonnes of propellant and producing up to 73.4 tonnes of thrust debuted in 2008.

PSLV - Space Launch Report

PSLV’s 12.5 x 2.8 m PS-2 (L40) second stage is powered by a 73.9 ton-thrust Viking 4 engine that burns unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) oxidizer for 162 seconds. Viking 4, called “Vikas” by ISRO, was originally built by Europe’s SEP for the Ariane 1 launch vehicle. 

The third stage is another 2.8 meter diameter solid motor. It burns 7.6 tons of propellant for 109 seconds, producing 33.5 tons of thrust.

The fourth and final stage is a twin-engine liquid propulsion system that is housed within the payload fairing below the satellite. It burns 2.5 tons of mono-methyl hydrazine (MMH) fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) oxidizer. The 1.43 ton thrust stage can burn for up to 420 seconds.

The vehicle is controlled by a strap-down inertial navigation/guidance system housed in a vehicle equipment bay that is mounted on top of the fourth stage. An 8.3 meter tall, 3.2 meter diameter payload fairing protects the payload during ascent through the atmosphere.

The first PSLV launch, in 1993, failed due to a software guidance error. The second flight one year later successfully boosted India’s IRS-P2 Earth resource monitoring satellite into an 820 km x 98.7 degree sun synchronous orbit. Eight PSLV launches occurred during the first 10 years of its use, with six successes. In 2002, PSLV-C4 performed the first PSLV geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) mission.

The original PSLV/GSLV launch complex was replaced in 2005 with a new, mobile launch facility. PSLV-C6 was the first rocket to use the pad. Whereas the original pad featured a fixed launch stand and a 75 meter tall mobile service tower, the new “second launch pad” uses rail-mobile launch stands that allow vehicles to be stacked in a vertical integration building located some distance from the launch pad itself.

PSLV - Space Launch Report

The January 10, 2007 PSLV-C7 mission included the first use of a PSLV dual launch adapter, which deployed both Cartosat 2 and the SRE 1 demonstration recovery capsule and carried a small microsatellite.  

The PSLV-CA (Core Alone) model premiered on April 23, 2007.   The CA model did not include the six strap-on boosters used by the PSLV-C variant.   Two small roll control modules and two first stage motor control injection tanks were still attached to the side of the first stage.  About 400 kg of propellant was offloaded from the fourth stage compared to PSLV-C.

Chandrayaan 1, India’s first lunar orbiter, was launched by the first PSLV-XL variant on October 22, 2008.  PSLV-XL, boosted by more powerful, stretched strap-on boosters, weighed 22 tonnes more at liftoff than PSLV-C.

Also read: Proton – Space Launch Report

Vehicle Configurations

(metric tons)
200 km x 49.5 deg
[800 km x 98 deg]
(metric tons)
PSLV-C3.7 t
[1.6 t]
1.1 t4 stage PSLV-C core with 6xS-9 strap-on boosters44.4 m295 t
PSLV-CA[1.1 t] 4 stage PSLV-C core44.4 m230 t
PSLV-XL[1.8 t]1.3 t4 Stage PSLV-C core with 6xS-12 strap-on boosters44.4 m316 t

Vehicle Components

 Stage 1 Core
Stage 1
(Each of 6)
(2 Air-Start)
Stage 1
(Each of 6)
(2 Air-Start)
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Diameter (m)2.8 m1.0 m1.0 m2.8 m2.0 m2.8 m3.2 m
Length (m)20.3 m10.0 m12.4 m12.5 m3.6 m2.9 m8.3 m
Propellant Mass
(metric tons)
138 t8.92 t12.0 t40.6 t
41.5 t (after C5)
7.6 t2.5 t
2.1 t (PSLV-CA)
Total Mass
(metric tons)
168 t10.93 t 46.0 t
46.9 t (after C5)
8.3 t2.92 t
2.52 t (PSLV-CA)
1.1 t
EngineS138S9S12Viking 4S7L2 
Oxidizer   N2O4 N2O4 
(SL metric tons)
447.22 t46.39 t (ea)     
(Vac metric tons)
500.68 t51.25 t (ea)73.42 t (ea)73.93 t
81.58 t (after C5)
33.52 t1.43 t 
ISP (SL sec)237 s229 s     
ISP (Vac sec)269 s253 s 296 s294 s308 s 
Burn Time (sec)98 s45 s49 s162 s
147 s (after C5)
109 s516.6 s 
No. Engines11 Each1 Each1121

Typical PSLV-C Launch Timeline

T+0 sS125 Core Stage Ignites0 km0
T+1.2 s4 Ground Lit Boosters Ignite – Liftoff0 km 
T+25 s2 Airlit Boosters Ignite2.4 km 
T+45 s4 Ground Lit Boosters Burnoutkm 
T+68 s4 Ground Lit Boosters Separate23.7 km 
T+90 s2 Air Lit Boosters Burnout/Separate42.6 km 
T+113 sFirst Stage Burnout/Second Stage Ignition68.5 km 
T +157 sPayload Fairing Jettison117 km 
T + 266 sSecond Stage Shutdown/Thrid Stage Ignition248 km 
T + 389 sThird Stage Shutdown/Sep425 km 
VariesFourth Stage Burn After Coast800 km typical
but varies
7.5 km/s LEO
10 km/s GTO
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