GSLV crashes into Bay of Bengal

T.S. Subramanian

Vehicle destroyed about 60 seconds after take-off as trajectory goes awry

A SETBACK: The GSLV-F02, carrying INSAT-4C, lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on Monday. The 49-metre tall, 414-tonne three-stage vehicle, however, developed a snag and plunged into the Bay of Bengal.

SRIHARIKOTA (Andhra Pradesh): The launch of the geo-synchronous satellite launch vehicle, GSLV-F02, ended in failure when it crashed into the Bay of Bengal about 60 seconds after take-off at 5.38 p.m. on Monday.

The Range Safety Officer at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here pressed the “destruct” button to prevent debris from falling on land and injuring people. The vehicle was destroyed after its trajectory went beyond the normal limits.

The GSLV-F02, 49 metres high and weighing 414 tonnes, was to have put in orbit communication satellite INSAT-4C.

Drop in pressure

G. Madhavan Nair, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation, told reporters that the failure was “one of the rarest phenomena.” The problem developed during the first stage. Pressure in one of the four strap-on motors dropped to zero; “that means, it [the motor] was not developing thrust.” Though the other three strap-on motors performed well, control of the vehicle became an issue.

The ISRO chief repeatedly stressed that the failure was not due to any design flaw. “This event took place after lift-off.”

Lift-off delayed

The lift-off, first set to take place at 4.38 p.m., was delayed by an hour as a safety valve in one of the pumps did not reseal when the third stage of the vehicle was being filled with cryogenic propellants. A team was sent to repair it.”The lift-off was normal. But after a few seconds, the vehicle did not follow the designed trajectory. It deviated. After about 60 seconds, some parts of the vehicle broke up,” Mr. Nair said.

After 40 seconds of lift-off, there was a divergence of 10 degrees of angular error in the trajectory of the vehicle. Four degrees of angular error is the normal limit.

Mr. Nair acknowledged that the mission failure was “a setback because we had a track record of 11 consecutively successful flights” from Sriharikota. These include the three GSLV flights in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

“Failures not uncommon”

“Our mission team had done an excellent job. Every sub-system was checked. If you look at the launch vehicles’ history, failures are not uncommon. The shuttle [of the United States] had failures,” he said.

The GSLV-F02 cost Rs.150 crore to build. ISRO spent another Rs.96 crore to fabricate INSAT-4C.

Mr. Nair said the ISRO would go through the data available from the flight. “We will pinpoint the failure. We will take corrective action. Within a year, we will have the GSLV up again.”

He denied that the mission failed because the vehicle was carrying the heaviest satellite ever by an ISRO vehicle so far. The weight of satellites had been gradually stepped up, but the three previous flights were successful.

Mr. Nair expressed the confidence that the ISRO would be able to overcome this failure. INSAT-4B would be launched by an Ariane vehicle from the Kourou islands in the French Guiana in 2007.

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