Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station

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Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station
Rohini rocket.jpg
Launch of RH-300 Mk2 from TERLS
Location Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Coordinates 8°32′34″N76°51′32″E / 8.54278°N 76.85889°E / 8.54278; 76.85889
Time zone UTC+5:30 (IST)
Short nameTERLS
Established21 November 1963;57 years ago (21 November 1963)
Operator ISRO

The Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is an Indian spaceport established on 21 November 1963. [1] Operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), it is located in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram which is near the southern tip of mainland India, very close to earth's magnetic equator. It is currently used by ISRO for launching sounding rockets. [1]


The first rockets were assembled in former St Louis High School, which houses now a space museum. [2] The local Bishop, Rev. Peter Bernard Periera, Bishop of Trivandrum, Vincent Victor Dereere (a Belgian) and district collector Madhavan Nair were instrumental in acquiring a large parcel of land measuring 600 acres from coastal community. [3] The Bishop Rev. Periera had given away the prayer hall and bishop's room in the local church for scientific pursuits of A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. [4] Then Minister of State for External Affairs, Lakshmi N. Menon helped a lot in smoothing the bureaucratic hurdles before the project at Delhi. [5]

The sounding rocket systems for the launch were loaned by NASA and payload was provided by CNES. The event did not gain the global media attention it deserved due to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy that happened in the following day.


Thumba's [6] location at 8°32'34" N and 76°51'32" E is ideal for low-altitude, upper atmosphere and ionosphere studies. Thumba is a small fishing village situated close to the Thiruvananthapuram airport in Kerala. [7] Thumba is also one of the farthest points from Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. [8]

In 1961, Vikram Sarabhai entrusted Eknath Vasant Chitnis with the task of hunting location for the space program. After visiting around 200 locations the scientist panel shortlisted on places such as Vellanathuruthu near Karunagappalli, Ezhudesam near Kanyakumari and Thumba. [9] The magnetic equator then passed through the location near Quilon named Vellanathuruthu and Thumba was a compromise location. [10] The difficulty in acquiring land in relatively densely populated coastal region of Kollam, lesser precipitation in Thumba, more political patronage by then Chief Minister Pattom Thanu Pillai for a location in Trivandrum, air strip facility in Trivandrum prompted the team to finally go ahead with Thumba in the meeting convened at Physical Research Laboratory in 1962.

Another reason that swung decision in favour of Thumba over Vellanathuruthu, that had water bodies on its eastern coast too (Ashtamudi Lake) was a dinner time discussion that Sarabhai had with P. R. Pisharoty. Pisharoty suggested that the Malayalam translation of Vellanathuruthu is 'White elephant sandbar' and Sarabhai was reluctant to go ahead with a place with such a name. [11]

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  2. "Transported on a Bicycle, Launched from a Church: The Amazing Story of India's First Rocket Launch". The Better India. 8 November 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  3. ICM, Team (23 July 2019). "When ISRO Aimed For the Heavens, a Tiny Church in Kerala Said Amen!". Indian Catholic Matters. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
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  5. "Remembering the guiding light". Retrieved 26 October 2020.
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  7. "Forty years in Space". India Abroad. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
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  11. "It's More Than Rocket Science | Outlook Poshan". . Retrieved 26 October 2020.External link in |website= (help)

Coordinates: 8°32′34″N76°51′32″E / 8.54278°N 76.85889°E / 8.54278; 76.85889