GSLV-D3 tumbles into the sea

India's ambitious quest to achieve total independence in cryogenic technology for launching satellite launch vehicles suffered a setback on Thursday, with the indigenous cryogenic engine in a Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D3) failing to ignite and the vehicle tumbling into the sea.

The mission to put communication satellite GSAT-4 in orbit thus ended in failure. The vehicle, however, was not destroyed in mid-flight as its trajectory was in a safe corridor over the Bay of Bengal.

The cryogenic technology is crucial to put heavy satellites in geo-synchronous transfer orbit at an altitude of 36,000 km.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was keenly looking forward to this flight because this was the first time that it was flying a GSLV with its own cryogenic engine. Gloom engulfed the Mission Control Centre at the Sriharikota spaceport as the mission's failure sank in. ISRO had worked for more than 17 years to develop its own cryogenic engine. The earlier five GSLV flights from 2001 to 2007 were powered by Russian cryogenic engines.

ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan told reporters, “We are not sure whether the cryogenic main engine did ignite. We have to confirm this after looking at the various parameters that were monitored during the flight. The vehicle was tumbling. It means it lost its control and altitude. Finally, it splashed into the sea.”

The GSLV-D3, mated with GSAT-4, lifted off majestically on the dot at 4.27 p.m. after a 29-hour countdown. In fact, there was no hitch at all in the countdown. The rocket soared and everything went all right till the end of the second stage, fired by liquid propellants.

But problems developed with the ignition of the cryogenic engine in the third upper stage, which after firing for 720 seconds, would have injected the GSAT-4 into orbit. “There was a problem in the start-up of the cryogenic engine,” said the Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, P.S. Veeraraghavan.

“Our team has all the capability and resilience to do an analysis and take corrective measures. Our target is to fly a GSLV with our indigenous cryogenic engine within one year. But it will be tough,” he said.

A ISRO press release says

The flight-testing of the indigenous Cryogenic Engine and the Stage conducted in the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV-D3 this afternoon (April 15, 2010) was not successful.

GSLV-D3 vehicle lifted off as planned at 16:27 hrs after a countdown procedure lasting for 29 hours. The countdown went off as planned. GSLV-D3 vehicle performance was normal up to the end of the second stage (GS2) till 293 seconds.

Afterwards, the Cryogenic Stage was to ignite and burn for about 720 seconds to provide the necessary velocity to inject GSAT-4 Satellite into the intended Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. It is yet to be ascertained whether the cryogenic engine did ignite. The vehicle was seen tumbling, lost altitude and finally splashed down in the sea.

Detailed analysis of the flight data is being carried out to find out the exact reasons for the failure and take corrective measures to realise the next flight test of the indigenous Cryogenic Engine and Stage within the next one year.

(B R Guruprasad), Public Relations Officer

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