India's first cryogenic rocket launch fails

India's first cryogenic rocket launch fails

ISRO's GSLVD3 takes off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Shriharikota on Thursday. PTI Photo The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) meticulously hand-crafted Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Development 3 (GSLV-D3), powered by its indigenously built CUS to launch a 2,220 kg GSAT-4 state-of-the art satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), belied all expectations, as the launcher deviated from its flight path and apparently plunged into the Bay of Bengal.

After a spectacular lift-off at the scheduled time of 4:27 pm from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, a spindle-shaped island 100-km north of Chennai, the GSLV’s third developmental mission failed in its third crucial cryogenic stage, after 1028 seconds from lift-off.

The first two stages separated perfectly as planned, but quickly after the rocket entered the ‘cryogenic stage’, scientists and engineers at the Mission Control Centre (MCC) here began to squirm with uneasiness and anxiety as the launch vehicle began playing truant.

Seated alongside the ISRO Director, Dr K  Radhakrishnan, media covering the historic launch found the scientists at the MCC in nail-biting moments and kept their fingers on their lips, indicating profound uncertainty about the mission. “Something not expected to happen is happening (at an altitude of 65 km above the earth) and I don’t see the data coming,” cried the compeer at MCC, tracking and reporting the flight’s progress every second.

Even as the ISRO scientists and technicians could be seen anxiously staring at their respective monitors on what might have led to this deviation from the flight-path in the third cryogenic stage, some of the top scientists were seen huddled in an intense discussion with Dr Radhakrishnan. A potentially celebratory mood suddenly turned into profound disappointment.

Even as the GSLV-D3’s project director by then could not hide the obvious and conceded that “we have got a problem in the third (cryogenic) stage and we could not achieve the mission,” the formal announcement of the flight’s debacle was left to Dr Radhakrishnan.
Mustering considerable moral courage, the ISRO Chairman in a spirits-reaffirming tone of clarity then announced from the MCC that the mission’s objectives “are not met fully”.

“The performance of the vehicle was normal up to the burnout of the second stage and the vehicle crossed the velocity of 4.9 km per seconds as planned,” Dr Radhakrishnan announced. “But in the third and final cryogenic stage, that is to give the maximum thrust to the GSLV-D3 to complete its launch vehicle mission, things utterly went wrong.”

Remarking that the main cryogenic engine probably ignited after the ‘ignition command’ was given by the on-board computer, Dr Radhakrishnan said, “we saw the vehicle tumbling, indicating that controllability was lost, probably due to the two vernier (smaller) cryogenic engines not igniting,” the ISRO Chairman said.

Stating that only a detailed analysis of the flight data could reveal what actually went wrong, Dr Radhakrishnan said the entire ISRO team including the scientists and technicians would ensure that the next GSLV flight with indigenous cryogenic engine would be achieved “within a year from now.”

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