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Different Types of Launch Vehicles in India

Launch Vehicles of India

We often read about the various satellites launched by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). These satellites are launched into space using a launch vehicle, or often called a rocket.

Satellites, or payloads, sits inside these launch vehicles, and are ejected once they reach near their intended orbit in space. Depending upon the required propulsion system of a satellite, different launch vehicle exists. In this article, we will read about the various types of launch vehicles in India.


What are launch vehicles?

  • Launch vehicles meaning: Launchers or Launch Vehicles are used to carry a spacecraft to space.
  • Satellites carry one or more instruments that do the scientific work for which they are sent into space.
  • Their operational life sometimes extends up to decades. Rockets, on the other hand, become useless after the launch.
  • The only job of a launch vehicle is to take the satellites to their intended orbits.
  • Rockets have several detachable energy-providing parts. They burn different kinds of fuels to power the rocket.
  • Once their fuel is exhausted, they detach from the rocket and fall off, often burning off in the atmosphere due to air-friction, and getting destroyed.
  • Only a small part of the original rocket goes till the intended destination of the satellite.
  • Once the satellite is finally ejected, this last part of the rocket either becomes part of space debris, or once again burns off after falling into the atmosphere.


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Types of launch vehicles in India

  • India has two operational launchers: Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).
  • The journey of launch vehicles started with Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3).
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  • Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) was India’s first experimental satellite launch vehicle, which was an all solid, four stage vehicle, and capable of placing 40 kg class payloads in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
  • SLV-3 was successfully launched in 1980 from Sriharikota Range (SHAR), when Rohini satellite, RS-1, was placed in orbit, thereby making India the sixth member of an exclusive club of space-faring nations.
    The successful culmination of the SLV-3 project showed the way to advanced launch vehicle projects such as the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV).



  • The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) Programme was designed to augment the payload capacity to 150 kg, thrice that of SLV-3, for Low Earth Orbits (LEO).
  • ASLV proved to be a low-cost intermediate vehicle to demonstrate and validate critical technologies, that would be needed for the future launch vehicles.


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  • Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is the third generation launch vehicle of India.
  • It is the first Indian launch vehicle to be equipped with liquid stages.
  • After its first successful launch in 1994, PSLV emerged as the reliable and versatile workhorse launch vehicle of India with 39 consecutively successful missions by June 2017.
  • During 1994-2017 period, the vehicle has launched 48 Indian satellites and 209 satellites for customers from abroad.
  • Due to these reasons, it earned its title ‘the Workhorse of ISRO’.
  • Besides, the vehicle successfully launched two spacecraft – Chandrayaan-1 (launch vehicle of chandrayaan 1) in 2008 and Mars Orbiter Spacecraft in 2013 – that later travelled to Moon and Mars respectively.



  • Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV is much more powerful rocket, meant to carry heavier satellites much deeper into space.
  • Till date, GSLV rockets have carried out 18 missions, of which four ended in failure.
  • GSLV MkIII, chosen the launch vehicle of Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft, is a three-stage heavy lift launch vehicle developed by ISRO. The vehicle has two solid strap-ons, a core liquid booster and a cryogenic upper stage.
  • GSLV Mk III is designed to carry 4 ton class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is about twice the capability of the GSLV Mk II.
  • It is also slated to take the Gaganyaan manned space mission.
  • Mk-III versions have made ISRO entirely self-sufficient for launching its satellites. Before this, it used to depend on the European Arianne launch vehicle to take its heavier satellites into space.


We will discuss more about the launch vehicles in our next article.


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