April 16, 2010
An Indian Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV D3),powered by India’s first indigenous cryogenic engine,was lost due to an apparent engine failure April 15, taking with it an experimental satellite.
While the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization,K. Radhakrishnan, says India plans to test fly another cryogenic engine within a year following corrective measures,the failure is being seen as a major crisis for ISRO.
The vehicle deviated from its planned path and within 500 sec. of reaching a height of 60 km. stopped emitting signals.
The GSLV D3 was to place in orbit GSAT-4, an experimental satellite with a multibeam Ka-band transponder.It had several payloads,including one for augmenting the U.S. Global Positioning Satellite navigation system, called Gagan (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation)— a test run for the Indian regional navigational satellite system (IRNSS) to be in place by 2014.
It was also carrying an experimental system for electric propulsion that could help enable satellite lifetimes to be extended by a couple of years.
According to Radhakrishnan, performance of the vehicle was “normal” up to the burnout of the second stage. The vehicle had a velocity of 4.9 kps. “We saw
the vehicle was stumbling ... it lost its control and altitude and splashed down into the sea [Bay of Bengal].”
Immediately following the mishap, Radhakrishnan indicated it was possible the two vernier, or steering, engines did not ignite. Later he said it was possible the main engine did not ignite. He added an initial analysis of the data should be done within three days.
“Had this test been successful, it would have given India more confidence ... it is far too early to think of commercial programs for the GSLV,” one official acknowledged anonymously.
The failed mission may also delay the lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 and India’s human spaceflight ambitions, as they depend on the GSLV Mk3 engine under development,
which requires a heavier cryogenic engine. It took ISRO 18 years to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine after its attempts to acquire cryogenic propellant from Russia in 1992 failed following U.S. opposition.
The cryogenic engine was developed by scientists of ISRO’s Liquid Propulsions System Center in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, an institution that remains on the U.S. sanctions list.
- Neelam Mathews (firstname.lastname@example.org)