Troubled ISRO launch goes up in smoke

A trail of white and orange smoke is seen as GSLV-F06, carrying communication satellite GSAT-5P

A trail of white and orange smoke is seen as GSLV-F06, carrying communication satellite GSAT-5P

India’s ambitious geo-stationary satellite mission received a major setback on Saturday as the satellite launcher, GSLV-F06, had to be detonated after it veered off course about 50 seconds into the launch. The GSLV-F06 plunged into the Bay of Bengal with its payload, the geostationary satellite, the `125-crore GSAT-5P. The rocket was destroyed when it was at an altitude of 8 km and 2.5 km away from Sriharikota.

This is the first time that Isro’s satellite launch mission has failed in the crucial first stage itself. The GSLV is a high-power rocket meant to carry heavy communication satellites into a geo-synchronous orbit, 36,000 km above the earth.
The failure of the GSLV will affect Isro’s planned missions, including the manned mission to moon, and will affect the telecommunications expansion programme in the country.
Saturday’s failure is the third time that the GSLV has failed in seven launches, and the second in eight months. In contrast, the PSLV has been successful, suffering only one loss in 17 missions.
The GSLV-F06 deviated from the designed path moments after the launch. “When our efforts to reach the control and command signals failed, it was decided to abort the flight in its first stage itself and the destruct command was issued,” a disappointed Isro chief, Dr K. Radhakrishnan, said.
The whole operation was over even before the cheers for the successful launch had died down at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota. “We learn from failures and such failures lead to success,” Dr Radhakrishnan said.
All the four liquid strap-on motors worked as expected and the mission was still in the first stage, he said.
Isro said a defective strap-on boosters hurled the rocket off-course soon after a smooth lift-off. The 2,130-kg GSAT-5P was by far the weightiest communication satellite made by Isro and was to replace the Insat2E launched 11 years ago.
The launch was originally scheduled for December 20, but was put off by five days following a leak in the Russian-made cryogenic engine which comprises the third stage. Isro had switched to the Russian cryogenic engine after the earlier mission in April this year using an indigenous cryogenic engine proved unsuccessful.
The GSAT-5P had 24 C-band transponders and 12 extended C-band transponders and was meant for augmenting communication services currently provided by the Indian National Satellite System. It was meant to boost TV, telemedicine and tele-education, and telephone services.
The satellite, developed by Isro Satellite Centre, Bengaluru, was the fifth in the GSAT series. Had the mission been successful, GSAT-5P would have served the telecommunications needs of the country till at least 2022.
Dr D. Sashi Kumar and Dr Nambi Narayanan, experts in liquid propulsion systems, described the failure of the Isro mission as “unfortunate and a stupid thing to have happened in the history of India’s space mission”.
The Isro chairman, Dr K. Radhakrishnan, told reporters that the control room lost control over the onboard computer system of the rocket and the activation system failed to react to the commands sent from the ground.
He said a team of experts will study the reasons for the rocket veering off for the next two days. “We suspect that a connector which takes signal down snapped,” he said, pointing to a possible snag on the strap-on motor — which is strapped to the side of the rocket — in the first stage.
Reacting to a question on Saturday’s failure affecting the business of launching foreign satellites, Dr Radhakrishnan maintained that it will not have much of an impact and pointed to their success with PSLV. He indicated that GSAT 8 could be launched from French Guiana by Arianspace, the European space consortium. He said Chandrayaan II project will be launched in 2013 or 2014.
The next launch planned by Isro is that of ResourceSat II using a PSLV rocket in January 2011.

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