The GSLV launch from Sriharikota on 29th March 2018:
An impromptu plan was made on Sunday 25th March 2018 to watch the launch of the GSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. My father’s friend Dr. Aditya Ponkshe, a well-known anaesthesia specialist is an extremely enthusiastic person who goes to cycle in different countries and enjoys adventure. He had once told me that he’d like to just see and hear the sound of a rocket when it is launched. On Sunday, I happened to come across a news announcement that ISRO would launch a GSLV rocket from the Sriharikota launch pad on Thursday 29th March 2018 at 5pm. Thursday 29th March and Friday 30th March were both holidays for us and therefore we thought we should try this.
The next day Dr. Ponkshe confirmed that his wife Dr. Sangeeta Ponkshe and Pune’s renowned IVF specialist Dr. Avinash Phadnis and Dr. Neeta Sathe would also join us for the adventure. Our sole aim was to get as close to the launch site, see the launch and return. I was pretty excited to go with them because they are absolutely fun loving and simple people and love taking new experiences in life. We planned to leave Pune by flight at 4am on Thursday and return the same day at 12 midnight. Dr Sathe unfortunately couldn’t make it at the last moment and had to drop out.
A group photo soon after the launch – (L – R: Dr. Aditya Ponkshe, Dr. Avinash Phadnis, Dr. Sangeeta Ponkshe and Dhruv Paranjpye)
This blog is our experience of witnessing a technology wonder very few countries in the world have to offer us. We acknowledge 2 extremely well written blogs which helped us get to this location and observe the launch. These blogs are: https://www.coveringmiles.com/watch-rocket-launch-sriharikota-india/ and http://bharatrram.blogspot.in/2015/10/how-to-watch-rocket-launch-in-india.html . We would like to thank Mr. Mayuresh Prabhune, a senior Marathi journalist and Mr. Guruprasad from ISRO on giving us guidance on how to watch the launch and reach the area.
We add our experience and photographs of the launch so that this blog could supplement the above ones. This blog particularly can be useful to those who would fly to Chennai and travel to Sriharikota by Road.
- Travel from Chennai to Sullurepeta:
As mentioned in the blogs above, we booked a hired taxi from Chennai Airport with Ola Outstation for the entire day. Our flight landed in Chennai at 6:30am and we were on our way to Sriharikota via NH 16 by 7am. Note that you should be prepared to pay a tax of Rupees 2,200 at the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh border for a hired taxi and Rupees 200 for the Tamil Nadu RTO. The road is straightforward and you must keep moving on NH 16 until you reach Sullurepeta village. The drive in the morning was extremely smooth and took us 2 hours to reach Sullurepeta. We had our breakfast at the famous Adyaar Anand Bhavan near the Chennai Airport. The roads are in very good condition and therefore those who plan to drive themselves should have a comfortable journey. You travel almost along the east coast of India.
- Sullurepeta to Attakanitippa:
You will see boards or distance markers on NH 16 showing the distance to Sullurepeta. Once the distance is 1km, slow down and when you reach the Holy Cross Circle take a right turn to go towards Attakanitippa. I have added some pictures of this road so that you can keep them as reference. As mentioned in the above blogs, keep following the main road and you should reach a point to turn on the Venadu Road as shown in the Google Maps screenshot below. Note that there is tremendous CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) security on the island from all sides and you will find a check post on the point mentioned below. Do comply with security if it all they stop you as they are only doing their job to keep the island safe. Although you are far far away from SHAR (Sriharikota Range) there’s still enough security presence to keep things under control.
The cement board shown above and a reddish muddy road towards the right are the landmarks to get to the observing point. Get onto it and park your car so that you can view the launch sites.
- Launch Pads for GSLV and PSLV:
When on the muddy road shown above, you can clearly see the first and second launch sites. PSLV rockets are launched from the launch site on the left and GSLV from the one on the right. The PSLV launch site has got 3 clearly visible towers while the GSLV has 4. Sometimes, only 3 towers are visible for the GSLV site as the 4th one is just behind one of them in your line of sight. The photos below are from the blog https://www.coveringmiles.com/watch-rocket-launch-sriharikota-india/ and all credits are to them.
Launch Pad 1 for PSLV.
Launch Pad 2 for GSLV.
We had reached by 11am and the launch was at 4:56pm. Therefore we did move around the place to see whether there can be a better location to watch the launch.
- New Location – ahead from the location in Point 3 by about 1.6km.
Instead of turning right on the muddy road as mentioned in point 3, keep going straight on that road. The road is in very good condition and you would see distance markers to Sriharikota on the left. If you notice from the Google Maps, the road begins to turn at a certain point after which it is almost in the same direction as the GSLV launch pad. You do not want to get beyond this point otherwise your view begins to be hidden by the trees. This point comes exactly at the distance marker of 3km to Sriharikota and Bridge number 14.
Just to the right of the bridge there was a muddy land on which we could position our cameras and watch all the 4 towers clearly. It will be a bonus to have binoculars from this site. Now, this site is about 1.6 km from the Venadu Road. However, you can only see launch site 2 (GSLV launch pad) from here. If you wish to see launch pad 1 (PSLV launch pad) you can go closer to bridge number 15 (just ahead of this location).
Anyway, the launch pad would be known to you depending upon whether it is a GLSV or PSLV launch and therefore you can choose accordingly. You can keep going further ahead on the road and get as near as the Space Center Circle beyond which public entry is restricted. However, as we saw, the trees are bound to obscure your views and therefore if you don’t want to miss the first few seconds of the launch, it would be best for you to stay at the location we were.
- Capturing the Launch of GSAT-6A , important tips and experience
The launch was scheduled at 4:56pm and it was known that ISRO would launch the rocket at exactly that time. Therefore we were ready at the site with our equipment by 4pm. My plan was absolutely clear that I would see the launch in binoculars. However, it was also true that I wanted to record the launch and the subsequent excitement on my camera. Therefore, I had set my DSLR on a tripod and used an 18-55mm lens to capture the video. I knew this wouldn’t be of any great help in getting a clear picture of the rocket’s body but I didn’t have time for searching whether anybody could rent/lend their zoom lens.
Our phone usually is set on a network time which in my case was lagging by 66 seconds from the GPS time. Even a 5 second difference is a huge error in this case as the entire show lasts for about 1 minute. Therefore, I had a GPS app which helped me find out the exact GPS time and accordingly we set our timers. Once you set your timer, put your phones on flight mode and remove all other apps/processes running in the background which would interrupt your recording. Once the timer is at 1 minute to launch, start recording on your cameras and just leave the camera to itself. If your timer is on the phone, disable it at 1min, and start recording immediately. This would help you to not only record the entire event without interrupts but also enjoy the launch with your eyes on it. The timer starts ringing once it is at 0 seconds.
Note that this location was about 10km from launch pad 2. Thus we were calculating the expected time at which we could listen to the sound of the lift-off. If you assume that the speed of sound in air is about 330 m/s, you would roughly expect to hear the sound 30 seconds after lift-off. This was the minimum expected time. In 30 seconds, the rocket would soar way high into the sky and yet until then you would only see it rising silently. This experience is unparalleled and those of you who have the appreciation towards the laws of physics would certainly be awestruck.
The rocket launched exactly at the given time from between the towers. You can watch the entire video at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp3JBmUI7Dg&feature=youtu.be
The sound was first heard about 40 seconds after lift-off. Although the sound wasn’t as strongly felt as described by many people, the whole experience was thrilling enough. With binoculars we could clearly see the strap on boosters and the entire rocket body. The flame itself was so big and to imagine seeing it from a distance of 10km was an indicator of its energy. Within about 90 seconds we saw the flame shut off and leave a smaller greyish trail than the big white one.
- Waiting for time to pass
There aren’t too many places to go to in Sullurepeta. The heat was scorching and we wanted to find some place to stay. Hotel Kinnara Grand is the best place we would recommend. They had some amazing lunch dishes (although a bit spicy) and you could book a room for about 1800-2000 rupees so that you could wait there until about 3pm or so. This hotel is at location 13.706504 N and 80.013574 E just near the Holy Cross Circle. We saw a SBI ATM on our way to Sriharikota from the Hotel.
It is a silent location in afternoon times and therefore there aren’t too many options you would have even for a cup of tea. Therefore be well prepared with food and water when you arrive here.
The return journey back to Chennai Airport is about 3 hours and you can expect moderate traffic while entering Chennai.