Will 2014 see a 20-year-old Indian space dream come true? January 5 should tell whether years of ISRO’s toil and tears will fructify and usher India into a select club of countries — those with their own cryogenic rocket engine technology, which can launch their communication satellites from their soil.
Space agency ISRO, flush from launching its Mars Orbiter Mission, will face its acid test on Sunday when it flies the GSLV-D5 launch vehicle with the indigenously built cryogenic upper third stage. To succeed, the launcher must place GSAT-14, a two-tonne-class satellite, in the planned orbit.
ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan told The Hindu that the GSLV flight with an indigenous cryogenic stage would be a priority mission for 2014.
The upcoming launch is said to be extremely vital for the organisation morally and operationally. The first such bid failed in April 2010. A second attempt was called off in August 2013, an hour before the launch, after a fuel leak was detected. In the last four or so months, the organisation had done everything to ready a “refurbished” vehicle, Dr. Radhakrishnan said. Significant changes were made, including new fuel tanks, systems and material, based on the recommendations of the K. Narayana committee that went into the August leak episode.
The teams started re-assembling the current vehicle on October 18, 2013. The three-stage GSLV rocket has a first stage (S139) propelled by solid fuel; its four strap-on (L40) boosters use liquid fuel. The second stage GS2 uses liquid propellants. The third cryo stage uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. While D5’s cryo stage was found healthy after August, ISRO had to work anew on the other two.
Dr. Radhakrishnan said: “We got a new S139 solid first stage. Its four liquid strap-on stages have a lot of avionics, so we refurbished them at Mahendragiri and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. We also made a new second stage. When the launch was called off in August, the liquid stage had to be drained of fuel and washed with much water. This might have affected the electronics systems, so we replaced them, too.”
More importantly, the fuel tank material has been changed, fully phasing out the traditional but corrosion-prone aluminium-zinc combine, called AFNOR 7020. The new alternative, aluminium-copper alloy called AA2219, is now the material for all PSLV and GSLV tanks.