The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost an important earth observation satellite during launch on Thursday morning after the GSLV rocket carrying it malfunctioned about five minutes after lift-off.
The launch was supposed to place the earth observation satellite, EOS-03, into a geostationary orbit. The problem with the rocket, however, led to the failure of the mission.
The launch failure was the first suffered by ISRO in four years. The last time an ISRO rocket failed to put a satellite in orbit was in August 2017, and involved a PSLV that was carrying the navigation satellite IRNSS-1H.
“Performance of first and second stages was normal. However, Cryogenic Upper Stage ignition did not happen due to technical anomaly. The mission couldn’t be accomplished as intended,” ISRO said in a statement, without giving any more details.
India has had a few setbacks in the cryogenic stage earlier, but several successes as well. ISRO will have to recalibrate launch plans now, and the forthcoming schedules are likely to be impacted.
The cryogenic upper stage has an indigenously developed cryogenic engine fuelled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at very low temperatures. Cryogenic engines are much more efficient, and provide greater thrust to propel heavier rockets like GSLV that are designed to carry bigger payloads into space.
But these are also much more complex than conventional liquid and solid propellants, because of the extremely low temperatures — hundreds of degrees Celsius below zero — that are required to be maintained. ISRO has had a few difficulties with the cryogenic stage earlier too, even though several launches have been completed successfully.
Thursday’s launch was the 14th involving a GSLV rocket and the fourth failure — but the first since 2010. In between, this rocket, the Mark-II version of GSLV, has had seven successful flights with similar cryogenic engines. The last successful launch happened in December 2018 when the GSAT-7A, a communication satellite, was put in orbit.
The failure is a major setback to ISRO, whose missions are already delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The launch of EOS-03 was initially planned for March last year but had to be put off, first due to some technical glitches, and then because of the pandemic.
EOS-03, part of the new generation of earth observation satellites, was meant to provide almost real-time images of large parts of the country that could be used for monitoring natural disaster such as floods and cyclones, water bodies, crops, vegetation, and forest cover.
Following the failure of the launch, the satellite, along with the rest of the rocket, would have likely fallen somewhere in the sea.
Several other missions involving GSLV rockets are planned for this year and in the following years, and their current schedules are likely to be impacted by Thursday’s failure.