Saturday, October 3, 2015

How to Watch a Satellite Launch in India

So, you love watching an aircraft taking of like a rocket from an airport. How about watching a rocket craft its way through space to place its payload in a geostationary orbit? How? Well, here's how!:

First, find out the date of the launch of the next rocket from SHAR (Sriharikota Range) from where our rockets, the PSLV and GSLV are launched. This information is usually available to the public about 7-10 days before the launch. So keep scanning your newspaper or check ISRO's (Indian Space Research Organization's website. for the next launch date.

This is a shot of the PSLV C30 taking off from SHAR on the 28th September, 2105

To get to SHAR you have to reach Sullurpeta which is the closest railhead from SHAR. Sullurpeta (Station Code : SPE) is about 80 kilometres from Chennai and could take up to 3 hours by road.The time taken by train (suburban train) is 2 hours 10 minutes and by an Express Train is 1 hour 30 minutes. Depending on when you need to get there you could take the suburban trains (Rs.25 for a second class ticket and Rs.200 for a first class ticket) or an long distance train. The air-conditioned Chair Car fare from Chennai to Sullurpeta by Express Train is Rs.300/-

Some long distance train options from Chennai to Sullurpeta are:


Depending on the time of the time of the launch, it may be possible to get back to Chennai the same day after witnessing the launch. But, if this is not possible you may have to stay overnight in Sullurpeta - which is a small town and the only option to stay here is Hotel Kinnera Grand which is a 5 minutes drive from Sullurpeta Railway Station (Sai Nagar Main road Sullurupet - 524121. Email:hotelkinneragrand@gmail.com Phone :(STD Code 08623) 242455 and 242466.

The launch of the rocket (the PSVL or the GSLV) happens either from Launch Pad I or Launch Pad II both of which are in the restricted area of the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) within the ISRO Complex at SHAR. SHAR is 17 kilometres from Sullurpeta. It takes about 30 minutes to get from Sullerpeta to SHAR (or the spot from where I recommend that you watch the launch). Of course, if you know anyone in ISRO it is possible to get an invite to watch the launch from inside the ISRO complex - which I am told is no different from watching from outside. In fact, several photographers who have Media Passes to watch the launch still prefer to watch it from here (the location I suggest below) as the entire launch can be watched  right from the ignition stage.


Plan to reach the viewing position at-least 30 minutes prior the the official launch time. Unlike how most of India works, the launch time is adhered to very precisely as the calculated time is the most advantageous for the rocket to place its payload with the greatest precision when launched. So, unless there is an unforeseen weather issue, a technical hitch or if  space debris is noticed, which could come in the path of the trajectory of the launch - the rocket will be launched at the exact designated time.

So, when you are ready to leave for SHAR proceed towards Sriharikota - which is 15 kilometres from Sullurpeta. When you are 7 kilometres from Sriharikota and near the village of Attakanitippa (all rickshaw drivers know the place quite well) and see this milestone - slow down.


Reduce speed as you need to change your trajectory shortly after this milestone (at the 5 km milestone which is just beyond this milestone on the way to Sriharikota) on the way to Sriharikota (SHAR or Sriharikota Range) Just after the milestone pictured above, you will see (at about 2 kms after the 7 km milestone as above i.e. after the 5 km milestone) this sign on your right:


Take the right on this dirt road (Pernadu Road) and travel for 500 to 600 meters (say half km or less on this dirt road) and on the left would be your viewing point on the Pulicat lake (the lake bed may be dry depending on the season). At the viewing point on your left (you would be facing East - Latitude: 13.724419, Longitude : 80.123865) you will see two sets of tower like structures. One set - where 3 towers are visible (Launch Pad I)  is from where the PSLV's are launched. The other set with 4 tower like structures (Launch Pad II) is from where the GSLV's are launched.

Launch Pad I - Three Towers
Launch Pad II - Four Towers

Now that you are at your right point, keep an eye and train your camera on Launch Pad I or II, as the case may be, and countdown for lift-off.

Some key points in your preparation:

Launch Window: The launch time or the launch window is communicated by ISRO in advance for you to book your tickets to Sullurpeta. Also, progress in preparing the rocket is updated many times a day on ISRO's Facebook page. If there is any change you may get adequate notice to reschedule. Plan to reach the venue well in time to get a glimpse of the launch which can be seen - depending on the weather - only for 30 to 60 seconds. Within about 60 seconds the rocket is out of viewing range.

Accessories: Depending on technical parameters like the weather, the desired trajectory, the flights goals and payload the launch may be scheduled at any-time of the day or night. Water, Caps,Torchlight, some food may be useful. Binoculars will get you a better view.

Camera: Bring a 400 mm lens for shooting the take-off. Rent one if you don't have one. A tripod is not very useful. The camera settings I used are : F9, ISO 250 (a higher ISO may be required if the launch is late in the evening), Shutter 1/2500, Spot Metering.

Just seconds after the launch the rocket is almost out of visual range

Getting to the venue: On the date of the launch it is unlikely that you can hire a car in Sullurpeta. So, if you are not driving there make your arrangement well in advance. ISRO has many guests and visitors for the launch and all taxis in Sullurpeta are booked in advance. Babu Naidu (+91-934661-0136) is a taxi owner in Sullurpeta who you may check with. Since no taxis were available, I hired a rickshaw which not only took me to the exact spot of the launch but the driver briefed me on the exact direction to look for the rocket. The rickshaw owner is Jagadish and his phone number is : +91-9640208664. Chengaiah is another rickshaw owner whose number is +91-9966602243. The charge is Rs.500/- for the return trip with no additional charge for waiting

After the launch: After the launch visit the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) at SHAR which is only about 1 kilometre away. Visitors are not allowed in but it is still nice to be there.

For those living in South India there is no excuse for not witnessing a rocket launch from SHAR. It is short, spectacular and a sin to give it a go-by!
PS:
Update on the 20th December,2015. Here are a few photos of the C29 taking off on the 16th December, 2015
Update on the 23rd May, 2016: Incorporation of inputs from blog reader, Prabhu, who suggested some corrections in the distance to be covered on the way to the launch site.


Update on the 8th September, 2016: Here are two photos of the GSLV-F05 taking off from SHAR with INSAT 3DR weather satellite


50 comments:

Mou said...

Wow Bitty! That is a comprehensive guide - nope no excuses at all!

And of course, as usual lovely pics :)

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you very much for your comment!

Prabu said...

hi, great pictures. So, do we have the water now and what about flamingoes? Last time when we visited the whole area was dried up and not even one bird. We want to visit now and wanted to check the status before we leave.

Bharat R Ram said...

Prabhu: Pulicat lake is now quite full. There is a Flamingo fair in January, 2016. You may want to check the exact dates on the internet before you proceed. Best wishes

Bharat R Ram said...

Prabhu : Not a fair. A Flamingo Festival is being held n January, 2016. You may check details here
http://www.deccanchronicle.com/151226/nation-current-affairs/article/massive-media-support-flamingo-festival

NolanFan said...

Excellent guide.

Wanted to know if there is much difference if we watch from Sullurpeta or the viewing point you have mentioned.

Bharat R Ram said...

NolanFan: Even from the Pulicat Lake Point (which I have mentioned in my post) one is about 7 or 8 km away from the launch pad. From Sullurpeta you will be over 23 km away from the launch pad. Further, the view from Sullurpeta will be after the rocket has gained some altitude. However, from the Pulicat Lake Point you can watch the take-off right from the ignition stage - i.e. from the time the rocket gets ignited but had not begun to take off. The view from Pulicat Lake is far superior and only 15 km from Sullurpeta town

Prabhu said...

Thanks a ton Bharat. An amazing end-to-end account. Plan to watch the RLV-TD launch next week.

1 Question: Are we allowed to drive till this point?

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you Prabhu. The exact spot is only about 500 meters off the main road. While this is a mud road ( the 500 m stretch off the main road) it is a very easily drive-able even with a low chassis vehicle. Auto Rickshaws use this road periodically. There are pot holes but quite manageable.There are no restrictions from the government/ISRO for watching the launch from this point or driving upto here. The first test flight of the reusable launch vehicle - I think at 0930 hours on the 23rd May, 2016 - have a good trip.

Prabhu said...

Bharat, it was an anti-climax today. Started from Tambaram by 5:45 and was there by 7:25 am (as ISRO had announced "anytime between 7 to 11") but still missed the launch as it apparently happened by 7 am sharp.

Met lots of parents and kids with disappointed faces who missed the launch and many were still coming in as we left. In fact met a TV crew that came in late to cover the story.

Took your advise at every step. I didn't have to stay in Kinnera Grand, but had my breakfast there (met a family that had come all the way from Kochi to watch the launch).

Just one minor observation: The right we need to take is "after the 5 km milestone".

Came home and watched the launch in YouTube :) The pride of success made the disappointment go away.

Jai Hind.

And thank you very much for this wonderful blog.

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you very much Prabhu for your feedback. Sorry to note that you missed the launch. I saw in this morning's newspaper that the launch had been shifted to 7 am. Anyway, you are not very far from Sriharikota and the next launch is not more than a month away.I will make the correction about the 'right' that you need to take to reach the location - in the blog. Best wishes

Krishna said...

Bharath:

Excellent. I want to take my son and watch the launch. This is what I was looking for and you have given in detail.

Thanks
Krishna

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you Krishna! There is a launch scheduled later this month (June 2016) where ISRO will put 22 satellites into orbit from a single rocket. The exact date has not been announced yet. It's quite a spectacular light and sound show. Best wishes

Hashim said...

Thanks Mr Bharat for the excellent blog.Such a comprehensive description of how to watch the launch. Keep it up

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you very much, Hashim!

Hashim P I said...

Next PSLV launch on 15 Feb

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you! Hashim. That launch must be when ISRO is launching 100 satellites in one go!

Hashim P I said...

Time of launch updated at 0908h on 15 Feb

Unknown said...

Thank you for the information! I am traveling from San Francisco to see the launch with a friend of mine. We helped design some of the satellites on this launch. Looking forward to it!

Bharat R Ram said...

Glad to know that the rocket will be carrying your payload too! Best wishes for a perfect placement in the orbit!

Unknown said...

We are going to try to stream some video of the launch for friends back home. Any idea which of the mobile networks would have the best coverage at the viewing point? We plan to pick up some local SIM cards when we arrive.

Bharat R Ram said...

Airtel (their 4G network) has good signal at this location. Best wishes

sekhar mn said...

Dear Bharat,
It feels proud to spell you Name!

Very detail and comprehensive description. I am planning to reach there on 15th early hours from Hyderabad. I missed my opportunities back there with NASA. Hope I will get glimpse of this 103 co-passenger satellite wonder with my kids to treasure the proud moments!

Very disappointed after failed to get pass from "know to know" distant reference from SHAR, very excited and motivated to progress with your details.

For those interested in more details(PSLV-C37 Brochure):
http://dos.gov.in/sites/default/files/pslv_c37-final.pdf

Keep up good work!
Best Regards
Sekhar

Venky said...

See You folks on the 15th. Thanks Bharat for the blog. Almost like a recipe. I am not well equipped with bionics etc. Is it good watch naked eye.

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you for your comment Shekhar! Here's wishing you a great viewing with a clear sky!

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you for writing in Venky! Yes, you can watch the launch clearly with the naked eye. Reach well in time. Unless there is a technical hold on the countdown - the liftoff with be precisely at the stated time. Check updates for any changes on ISRO's Facebook page. Best wishes

Reve said...

I'm super excited for the launch tomorrow. Hope it happens at 9:28 as planned. Thanks a ton for the instructions.

Bharat R Ram said...

All the best Reve!

Venky said...

The directions are to the tee. It was superb experience. My kids were jumping on seeing the takeoff. Thanks again Bharat.

Bharat R Ram said...

Great to know that you had a good time viewing the launch. Best wishes

Reve said...

Sir I just can't thank you enough. Used the coordinates posted by you and reached super continently. Turnout was huge. Hundreds poured in to witness it. But 99% of the crowd started walking on the dry lakebed towards the launchsite. I stayed back at the point and saw it.

Bharat R Ram said...

Glad to know that you found it as exciting as I found the launches that I witnessed earlier. Best wishes

Priyanka said...

Thanks for the detailed post :) Planning to drive from Hyd to show the launch to our 6 yr old kiddo on Friday (5th May). There are no updates on ISRO website or FB/Twitter page though. Any idea if we can manage to get inside to see the museum on Saturday?

Priyanka said...

I just saw that ISRO posted the update on their website :)

Bharat R Ram said...

Thanks for your comment. ISRO has still not updated the launch time for the South Asian Satellite launch on the 5th May 2017. Could be anytime - day or night. Please check before leaving so that you are there at least 30 to 40 minutes before launch time. ISRO's FB page will have (not there yet) an update on the countdown to the launch. It's very hot at Pulicat Lake. Please take suitable precautions. Here's wishing you a good viewing.

Bharat R Ram said...

The launch is from Launch Pad II. I have described launch pad II in my blog post - so look in the right direction. All the best

Priyanka said...

Launch time is mentioned on this site: https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/ but we are keeping track on the ISRO pages too.


Bharat R Ram said...

That's good. All the best!

Shanker said...

I am planning to take my son for GSLV MK III launch this month end. The exact date is yet to be announced.Do you have any update on the Launch date.

Bharat R Ram said...

Shanker, There is no update on the end May launch yet. This is a GSLV launch - there may be delays. Best wishes

Bharat R Ram said...

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said today it is hoping to launch the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle(GSLV) Mark-III in the first week of June 2017

Pravinkumar Biradar said...

thank you sir.... it's very comprehensive.... got everything which i wanted to know....!

Manjuraj said...

Hi Bharat/ Shanker,

GSLV MK 3(if toi Mumbai edition is to belived) will be on 5th June, 4.30 PM IST


TNN:
GSLV Mark-3 to lift off on June 5

The much-awaited launch of the GSLV Mark-3 rocket, carrying the nearly three-tonne Gsat-19 satellite, is scheduled for June 5 at 4.30pm in Sriharikota,

Source: http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31804&articlexml=GSLV-Mark-3-to-lift-off-on-June-14052017014042#

Bharat R Ram said...

Thank you Manjuraj for sharing the time of launch of the GSLV Mark III.

Priyanka said...

Next GSLV Launch is scheduled on 5th June at 5:28pm in Sriharikota (Source: PR department at SHAR). I have blogged about our experience of last visit at How to watch a rocket launch live in Sriharikota. Hope this along with your blog helps other space enthusiasts watch the spectacle live :)

S Das said...

Watched GSLV MK3 yesterday. Took Pinakini Express to Sullurpeta, reached around 1530. Shared an auto with 2 other guys who I just met there. Fare was 500/- for return trip including waiting which was a little more than 1 hour. Most auto drivers know the spot, no problems on that count. Was an awesome site against the clear blue sky, almost cloudless. We could see the boosters (first stage) dropping off.

Bharat R Ram said...

S Das: Lovely that you were able to watch the Fat Boy of ISRO take off on a clear day. Thrilled to know that you saw the first stage boosters dropping. I had seen this on one occasion with the PSLV. I could not make to the launch site this time as I did not plan the trip in advance. However, saw it live on Doordarshan. All the best.

mount Airguide said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

We followed everything you said. The trip was a success. Although the PSLV mission failed but the launch was a success.
Thank you for such an informative blog.

Bharat R Ram said...

Glad to know that your trip was a success. Thank you for dropping a comment.