Indian rocket explodes seconds after launch (Intro Night Lead)

December 25th, 2010 - 10:20 pm ICT by IANS  

ISRO By V. Jagannathan
Sriharikota (Andhra Pradesh), Dec 25 (IANS) India’s space programme suffered a major blow Saturday as an advanced communication satellite - GSAT-5P - exploded and splinted within a minute after its launch from here on Christmas day.Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) command office here wore a stunned look as the Rs.125 crore satellite failed to respond to its instructions and became debris in a matter of 63 seconds after lift-off.

ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan said the first stage went smoothly till 50 seconds but the rocket started failing after that.

“The controllability was lost 45 seconds after the lift-off. The control commands to the four strap on motors of the first stage did not reach,” Radhakrishnan told reporters.

“There was no design fault in the rocket. We suspect the four connectors to the strap-on motors got snapped,” Radhakrishnan said.

The Range Safety Officer saw the vehicle breaking up and decided to destruct the rocket mid-air, 63 seconds after the lift off.

“The rocket was destructed when it was at an altitude of eight km and 2.5 km from the Sriharikota coast. The debris fell into the Bay of Bengal,” Radhakrishnan said.

The 2,310 kg GSAT-5P satellite was launched at 4.04 p.m. in clear sky from the space centre, to serve the needs of the telecommunication sector and the weather department.

The Rs.300 crore project was also to retire the INSAT-2E satellite, sent up in 1999.

It rose into the sky with a deep roar, emitting thick orange flame at its tail. And suddenly it exploded — and disintegrated.

The failure shocked ISRO. A despondent former ISRO chairman U.R. Rao said it was the first time he had seen a failure in the first stage of the launch.

“Though it is unfair to comment without the telemetry data, the failure could have been due to any of the factors, including solid propellant leak or failure of control system,” Rao said.

The first two stages of our rocket launches are common for PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) and GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).

“I do not call it a setback as failures are common in rocket/space missions. We are really dealing with rocket science here, which requires 100 percent accuracy in everything we do, be it the design, structure, components, system, fuel and processes. A minor glitch in any of them can cause trouble,” Rao told IANS.

The GSAT-5P satellite was supposed to have a life span of over 13 years. It had 36 transponders - automatic receivers and transmitters for communication and broadcast of signals.

Its successful launch would have taken ISRO’s transponder capacity to about 235, from the 200 currently in the orbit.

According to Radhakrishnan, ISRO will lease necessary transponders to provide continuity of services to its customers.

“We may shift some of the customers to our existing transponders,” he said.

Saturday’s launch was originally scheduled for Dec 20 but was aborted a day earlier after a leak was detected in one of the valves of the Russian-made cryogenic engine.

Later, tests ensured the stability of the valve. The ISRO gave the go-ahead for a Christmas day launch.

The Russians had supplied seven cryogenic engines long back, and India has used six of them till date.

Radhakrishnan said ISRO will be launching communication satellite GSAT-8 by March/April 2011 from French Guyana using Ariane rocket, which will be followed by GSAT-9 and GSAT-10.

However, it will be launching a GSAT-12 satellite using its other rocket - polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) next year.

Radhakrishnan said he will be sending up PSLV rocket with a remote sensing satellite Resourcesat next February. Piggy backing on that will be two small satellites.

“One is built by Moscow University and ISRO, and the other is by Singapore University,” he said.

In September 2007, when ISRO flew the GSLV to put into orbit the INSAT-4CR communication satellite, the rocket had faced a valve problem.

ISRO launched two major satellites in 2010 - communication satellite GSAT-4 and remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2.

The GSAT-4 launch failed after the rocket crashed into the Bay of Bengal while Cartosat-2 was placed successfully in the orbit.

ISRO has many communication satellites in service - INSAT 2E, INSAT 3A, INSAT 3B, INSAT 3C, INSAT 3E, INSAT 4A, INSAT 4CR and INSAT 4B working at 50 percent capability.

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