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Sounding rockets are one or two stage solid propellant rockets used
for probing the upper atmospheric regions and for space research. They also serve as
easily affordable platforms to test or prove prototypes of new components or
subsystems intended for use in launch vehicles and satellites. With the
establishment of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1963 at
Thumba, a location close to the magnetic equator, there was a quantum jump in the
scope for aeronomy and atmospheric sciences in India. The launch of the first
sounding rocket from Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on 21 November 1963,
marked the beginning of the Indian Space Programme . Sounding rockets made it
possible to probe the atmosphere in situ using rocket-borne instrumentation. The
first rockets were two-stage rockets imported from Russia (M-100) and France
(Centaure). While the M-100 could carry a payload of 70 kg to an altitude of 85 km,
the Centaure was capable of reaching 150 km with a payload of approximately 30 kg.
ISRO started launching indigenously made sounding rockets from 1965
and experience gained was of immense value in the mastering of solid propellant
technology. In 1975, all sounding rocket activities were consolidated under the
Rohini Sounding Rocket (RSR) Programme. RH-75, with a diameter of 75mm was the first
truly Indian sounding rocket, which was followed by RH-100 and RH-125 rockets. The
sounding rocket programme was the bedrock on which the edifice of launch vehicle
technology in ISRO could be built. It is possible to conduct coordinated campaigns
by simultaneously launching sounding rockets from different locations. It is also
possible to launch several sounding rockets in a single day.
Operational sounding Rockets
Currently, three versions are offered as operational sounding
rockets , which cover a payload range of 8-100 Kg and an apogee range of 80-475 km.
Several scientific missions with national and international
participation have been conducted using the Rohini sounding rockets.