Monday, December 27, 2010

GLSV failure: Future space missions under cloud

The second failure of the Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) in a span of six months is expected to have a serious impact on Isro's three important space programmes, according to space scientists here. On April 15 this year, a GSLV, powered for the first time with an indigenous cryogenic engine, failed. On Saturday, the mission flopped following a technical snag in the first stage of the rocket.

Speaking to STOI, TIFR space scientist M N Vahia, who has had a long association with Isro, specifically mentioned three projects which could suffer a temporary setback — the Rs 425-crore second Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, which will be flown by the GSLV. "Well, Saturday's failure will certainly produce delays in the second lunar programme. If my payload was being flown on this mission using a GSLV, I would certainly want this rocket to be tested and evaluated more thoroughly," he said. As of now, the mission is slated for lift off in 2013.

Also to be affected could be the nearly Rs 13,000 crore human space flight mission, for which a formal green signal is still awaited from the government, Vahia said. Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan has been quoted as saying that this flight will take off around 2015.

According to Vahia, there could be delays in launching India's communication satellites from Sriharikota because Isro is running out of cryogenic engines. With just one Russian cryogenic engine left, Isro is in a position to schedule just a single flight of the GSLV firmly in future. The Indian cryogenic engine is not operational. The question arises whether the space agency will have to depend on foreign launchers like Ariane for some more time to carry its communication satellites.

"What happened on Saturday afternoon at Sriharikota was an unnerving situation because India's reputation as a reliable space launching country has taken a serious dent," said Vahia.

Secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, said: "If I were the vehicle director, I would subject all the stages of the GSLV to more exhaustive tests again before launching a flight."

Nehru Planetarium director Piyush Pandey expressed confidence that the GSLV will be used for Chandrayaan-2 though he felt "there could be a marginal delay if not a major one."

The most affected by these two GSLV failures are the scientists of Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre whose payloads flown by this rocket have headed for the sea rather than the sky. The GSat-4, with important payloads which was carried by the GSLV, went into the Bay of Bengal on April 15 followed by GSat-5P on Saturday.

It is in this context that Pandey's remark assumes significance when he said that the next flight of the GSLV should have a dud satellite rather than an operational one which will allow the rocket to be tested.

According to other space scientists the weight of the GSat-5P, which was 2,310kg, resulted in Indian and Russian engineers having to modify the parts of the rocket to lift the satellite which is the heaviest payload ever to be flown by an Indian rocket.

Eminent astrophysicist S M Chitre however sounded a note of optimism when he said: "We will succeed and we should not give up the capabilities of the GSLV."

Read more: GLSV failure: Future space missions under cloud - The Times of India

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