Do you have a space enthusiast kiddo at home? Or are you someone who loves watching aeroplanes take off at the airport and wonder how rocket launch would look like? Or are you someone who would like to inspire your kid to become a scientist and looking for avenues? Visit to the ISRO space museum or looking at a rocket launch in Sriharikota could be a great opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately, you cannot combine the 2 events because of restrictions before and after the launch. The facilities inside SHAR are closed 2 days before and after any scheduled launch. It is possible to get a pass to go inside SHAR to watch the launch from inside, but it requires one to know someone working inside ISRO. If you plan to visit Space Research Museum, launch pads and the other facilities, follow the link to my blog on How to visit Space research center at SHAR, Sriharikota.
We went for the rocket launch on 5th May 2017 and the experience was thrilling; to say the least. The next launch is scheduled on Aug 31st, 2017. Here is how you can plan a trip:
Step 1: Keep track of the date of the rocket launch.
While launches are planned months ahead, they often get rescheduled due to various reasons. The precise window (date & time) for any launch is announced by ISRO usually about 7-10 days in advance. The information is available in newspapers and/ or websites. Important websites are:
ISRO website: http://www.isro.gov.in/
SHAR website: http://www.shar.gov.in/SDSCE/index.jsp
ISRO Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ISRO/
SpaceFlight Now: https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/
You can watch out for the T-27 (27 hrs before actual launch) / T-24 (24 hrs before launch) countdown to be more certain of the date & time the launch is going to happen. The countdowns are announced in the media and the mentioned sites/pages.
Step 2: Plan to reach Sullurupeta a day before the launch
There are 2 rocket launch centres in India operated by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO): one in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh and the other in Thumba near Trivandrum. The one in Sriharikota (Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh) is in Satish Dhawan Space Center and is called Sriharikota High Altitude Range (SHAR). It is used to launch PSLV and GSLV rockets and the launch here are frequent than in Thumba.
Sriharikota is an island in the Bay of Bengal and the nearest town is Sullurupeta. Plan to reach Sullurupeta a day before the launch to avoid any last minute unforeseen change of schedule in the launch.
How to reach Sullurupeta: Sullurupeta is about 83 km from Chennai, 80 km from Tirupati, 100 km from Nellore and 330 km from Bangalore. It is well connected by road and railways (station code SPE). If you are travelling from Chennai or Nellore, it is possible to drive and return the same day depending on the time of launch. Trains take around 1.5 hrs from Chennai and driving time is around 3 hrs. While it is best to have your own vehicle, it is manageable even if you arrive by public transport and some prior planning.
Where to stay in Sullurupeta: Sullurupeta is a small town and there are not many options available. The two options are:
- Hotel Kinnera Grand Days Inn: It is located 1.7 km from the railway station. The hotel website is http://kinneragrand.com/index.html and phone number is 08623 242455, 08623 242466. Some of the photos of the hotel are
- R.R.Residency: It is located on the SHAR Road and is 1.3 km from the railway station. Hotel website is https://rrresidency.wordpress.com/, phone no. is 9490429494 and mail id is firstname.lastname@example.org
Step 3: Plan to reach the venue 30 min before the launch.
It is best to have your own vehicle when you are going for a launch. If not, you can book a cab in advance from Sullurupeta. Our hotel did not have their own cabs and they suggested we could check with Mr.Babu Naidu on +91 934661-0136. He owns a few vehicles and asked for Rs.1200 for 2 hours (negotiable). We finally decided to drive our own car and did not need his services. It may not be possible to hire a car in the last moment though; because most of the cars are booked by ISRO guests. In that case, you can hire an auto-rickshaw too.
It is not possible for the general public to view the launch from inside the space centre. It is a high-security area and viewing from inside requires prior permissions and contacts inside ISRO. We got contacts of 2 scientists inside ISRO but they could not arrange for a pass at the last moment. Also, they suggested that the launch is better visible from 5 km outside of SHAR than inside. The viewpoint suggested by another blogger Mr.Bharat on his blog How to watch a satellite launch in India worked the best. The scientists inside ISRO suggested the same viewpoint too.
The viewpoint is around 15 km from Sullurupeta. There is only 1 road that leads to SHAR and locating it will not be an issue (use Google Maps if you need directions). The launch happens on-dot at the designated time; unless there are some unforeseen circumstances. You would be able to see some weather balloons being launch few mins before the launch to check the atmospheric pressure, humidity, temperature and other vital stats. Plan to be at the viewpoint 30 min before the launch.
How to locate the best point to view the launch: On the road to Sriharikota, keep driving till you see the Pullicat lake on both your left and right side. Depending on the season, the lake may be dry. It was completely dry when we went in May and could walk on its salt bed. We recently visited Rann of Kutch and our kiddo called this “Rann of Sriharikota” because of the salt desert look 🙂 During winters, the lake is very full and flamingos flock the lake.
You should see a board “Environment Education Center, Pullicat Bird Sanctuary” right before the first checkpoint where there are CRPF guards.
Take a right after the education centre and drive for 500 mts on this dirt road. On your left, you should be able to see launch towers. There are 2 set of launch towers:
Launchpad 1: This is used to launch PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). It is a set of 3 towers to the left.
Launchpad 2: It is used to launch GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle). It is a set of 4 towers slightly to the right of Launchpad 1.
Depending on whether it is PSLV or GSLV launch, keep an eye on Launchpad 1 or 2. Also, depending on the time of the day and weather, it may be possible to get down the road and walk into the dried bed of the Pullicat lake to get a better view. We went at around 11 am to check the viewpoint and there were no restrictions. However, when we reached 30 min before the launch, there was security and the general public was not allowed to go till this viewpoint. The launch was scheduled at 4:57 PM and security stopped everyone at the Education centre itself and we had to watch the launch from the open ground inside the centre. In fact, CRPF men were forbidding people from clicking pictures also.
The actual launch will be visible for hardly 30 to 60 secs but the experience is magical. We even saw the first stage of GSLV getting disconnected from the rocket. We did not want to spoil the moment by trying to adjust the camera to click pictures and enjoyed the moment to its fullest. You will need a very good camera and excellent zoom to capture a photo if you intend to do so.
For those who are near Sriharikota, this is a spectacle to watch. The 600 km drive from Hyderabad was totally worth it.
Update June 5th, 2017: Today’s launch is scheduled at 5:28 pm IST. For those who are going to miss it, it is being telecasted live on DD1 starting 4:55 pm.
ISRO has posted some pictures on its website: