Explained: The GSLV mission and the difficulties it involves

An attempt at firing a satellite launch vehicle failed in Sriharikota on Monday.

Written by Gopu Mohan | Published: August 20, 2013 1:45 am

An attempt at firing a satellite launch vehicle failed in Sriharikota on Monday. A look at the mission and the difficulties it involves:

What was supposed to be launched?

The Indian Space Research Organisation would have launched GSLV,a vehicle to put a satellite in orbit. It has a homegrown cryogenic engine.

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Why was the mission important?

India has become a cost-effectiveport for lightweight satellites,but has so far had to depend on foreign facilities like the one in French Guyana for sending heavier payloads. Launching GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) would have been a step towards indepndence,but the country is still struggling to master the technology,unlike that of PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) which is often termed the workhorse of the Indian space establishment. This has been a handicap in stitching together a future satellite network and for the ambitious manned mission to the moon.

What does the technology involve?

The GSLV has a cryogenic stage,the main challenge. With liquefied oxygen and hydrogen as fuel,the cryogenic engine offers a much higher payload-carrying capacity than the liquid and solid stages do,and can ferry these heavier payloads across the gravity barrier.

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What has handicapped India?

India had entered into an agreement with the erstwhile USSR to buy the know-how and engines. But after the USSR broke up,Russia relented to US pressure to deny the technology. The deal was restricted to seven engines,not the know-how.

How have efforts progressed?

Since 2001,there have been seven GSLV missions until today. The first mission underperformed,but the next two (2003 and 2004) succeeded. Six of the seven Russian-made engines have been used. In April 2010,a launch with the first Indian-made cryogenic engine failed as the final stage stopped after a couple of seconds. The vehicle was redesigned but the next attempt too failed,in December that year.

What have the problems been?

The past failures were largely because of glitches in the third stage. This time the trouble was with the liquid stage — a fuel leak. A 29-hour countdown that had begun on Sunday progressed smoothly till about two hours before the scheduled launch at 4.50 pm,when the leak was detected in the liquid stage. The launch was called off with a little over an hour left on the counter.

What comes next?

The rocket will be taken to the vehicle assembly building for inspection after draining the leaked liquid fuel and detaching the strap-on motors and the cryogenic stage. “We need to make an assessment of the cause of the leak and the actions to be taken before further preparation for the launch,” says ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan. Only after the inspection and a study of the findings will a fresh date be announced.

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