India's First Indigenous GSLV-D3 Mission Fails

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Old 15-Apr-2010
India's First Indigenous GSLV-D3 Mission Fails

India's Rs 330 crore mission to flight test the first indigenous cryogenic engine failed today after the rocket powered by it crashed into the sea five minutes after a perfect lift-off in a setback to its space programme.

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) carrying a 2,200 kg communications satellite plunged into the Bay of Bengal after it deviated from its flight-path dashing the country's hopes of joining an exclusive club of five nations that has mastered the complex cryogenic technology on which ISRO was working for 18 years.

The satellite was to have been put into a Geostationary orbit, 36,000 km above earth, but the initial euphoria after the textbook launch turned into disappointment.

Announcing the ambitious mission, which would have given India self-reliance in all areas of launch vehicle technology, as unsuccessful a grim Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Radhakrishnan said scientists would test another cryogenic engine-powered GSLV within a year.

"Flight testing of indigenous cryogenic technology during the GSLV space mission was not successful," Radhakrishnan told reporters at the Satish Dhawan Spaceport here shortly after shocked scientists watched blips on huge computer screens tracking the rocket's path disappear. The rocket swerved off its path 5.5 seconds after the launch in perfect weather.

Hundreds of space scientists were visibly disappointed by the sudden turn of events and former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan was seen comforting Radhakrishnan for whom GSLV-D3 was the first mission after becoming the ISRO chief.

The 49-metre tall three-stage GSLV-D3, carrying the GSAT-4 advanced communications satellite, blasted off at 4.27 pm at the end of a 29-hour countdown. But soon scientists tracking the launch found that the rocket had deviated from the flight-path only to splash in the sea.

Cryogenic boosters are very complex engines that use supercooled liquid fuel for combustion and only five countries -- the US, Russia, France, Japan and China have mastered it.

"Our team has all the capability and the necessary resilience to build a cryogenic engine and within one year be ready to have the next flight test," the ISRO chief said.

In his initial remarks, Radhakrishnan said the cryogenic engine had ignited but the two Vernier engines had failed to develop the necessary controlling force. However, at the press conference, he said that it was not clear whether the cryogenic engine had ignited at all.

"We will carry out an analysis over the next two to three days to come to a conclusion on what exactly had happened, why it happened and what corrective measures needed to be taken," he said.

Radhakrishnan said performance of the vehicle was normal upto the "burn out" of the second stage.

"Everything was okay till the end of GS2 (second stage) upto 293 seconds after which the cryogenic stage was to ignite ...We are not very sure whether it did ignite," he said.

Cryogenic engines, giving additional thrust, help in launching heavier satellites into higher orbits.

ISRO scientists announced that they stopped receiving data from the rocket, giving way to gloom at the centre as the mission failed after 18-year long effort to develop the cryogenic technology and demonstrate the country's space prowess as its answer to technology denial by major powers.

During the flight, "the vehicle was tumbling and we will carry out detailed analysis of what went wrong. In another 2-3 days we will come to a conclusion to find out what exactly had happened," he said.

Earlier, GSLV flights were powered by the ready-to-fly cryogenic engines supplied by Russia.

India has been developing the cryogenic engine since 1993 as its answer to technology denial regime as the US not only refused the technology but also put pressure on Russia to backtrack on its commitment to New Delhi.

This is the second failure in the GSLV series after GSLV-F02 carrying INSAT-4C satellite plunged into the Bay of Bengal in July 2006.

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