India’s attempt to have its eye in the sky falters

Indian space programme suffered a serious setback on Thursday as its GSLV-F10 rocket failed midway in its mission of putting into orbit the Geo-Imaging Satellite-1.

Along with the rocket, the 2,268 kg GISAT-1/ EOS-03 communication satellite carried by the rocket was also lost. It was to provide a real-time image of a large area of a region of interest at frequent interval and also enable quick monitoring of natural disasters, episodic events, and any short-term events. The satellite had payload imaging sensors of six band multi-spectral visible and near infra-red with 42 metres resolution, 158 bands hyper-spectral visible and near infrared with 318 metres resolution, and 256 bands hyper-spectral short wave infra-red with 191 metres resolution.

A four-metre diameter Ogive shaped payload fairing (heat shield) made with composite was used in the rocket for the first time, ISRO said.

Announcing the mission failure, ISRO chairman K Sivan, said, "The mission cannot be fully accomplished because of a technical anomaly observed in the cryogenic stage."

The 57.10-metre tall, 416-tonne Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F10) lifted off from the second launch pad at 5.43 am.

A strong deep growl rose into the sky breaking free from the second launch pad here at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

The GSLV-F10 is a three-stage/engine rocket. The core of the first stage is fired with solid fuel and the four strap-on motors by liquid fuel. The second is the liquid fuel, and the third is the cryogenic engine.

The rocket laden with GISAT-1 furiously rushed towards the skies with thick orange flame at its rear.

Everything went off well as planned till the cryogenic engine got fired at about five minutes into the rocket's flight. At about six minutes into the flight, and soon after the cryogenic engine started operation, the mission control centre at the space port here tensed up as there was no data coming from the rocket. The rocket was seen deviating from its plotted path on the screen.

One of the ISRO officials announced that there was a performance anomaly in the cryogenic engine.

Then, the officials realised the mission had failed, and Sivan made the announcement.

For ISRO, this is the second space mission in 2021 after the successful launch of Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1 by its rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle earlier this year.

GISAT-1: a jinxed satellite

Originally, the GISAT-1/EOS-03 was slated for launch on March 5, 2020, but hours before the launch, ISRO announced the postponement of the mission owing to some technical glitch.

Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown delayed the mission. The rocket had to be dismantled and cleaned up. The satellite also underwent a name change from GISAT-1 to EOS-03.

Subsequently, the GISAT-1/EOS-03 launch was slated for March 2021 but due to problems in the satellite's battery side, the flight got delayed again.

With the replacement of the battery, the satellite and the rocket were being readied for their flight at Sriharikota when the second wave of COVID-19 swept in, affecting many at the rocket launch centre.

The rocket earned the nickname ‘naughty boy’’ after some failed missions earlier and owing to its unpredictable performance. Later it started performing well.

Including Thursday's rocket a total of 18 GSLV's (Mk I, II and III) have been flown of which twelve were successful, six failures (four a total failure and two partial).

The 12 successful launches were in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018A and 2019, when the rocket launched GSAT-2, Edusat/GSAT-3 an educational satellite, INSAT-4CR, GSAT-14, GSAT-6, GSAT-9, GSAT-6A, GSAT-7A, GSAT-19, GSAT-29, Chandrayaan-2 and one experimental flight (GSLV-MkIII) in 2014.

The GSLV's rocket's maiden flight in 2001 (Mark I) was a partial failure as it was not able to sling GSAT-1 into the intended orbit. The satellite could not be raised to the intended orbit later.

It was sort of a historic flight for a dubious reason in 2006. For the first time, ISRO destroyed the rocket mid-air soon after the lift-off as it started backing up.

However, the 2007 flight gave anxious moments to ISRO officials. Fifteen seconds before the lift-off, the rocket's computers put GSLV on hold, detecting anomalies in the cryogenic fuel stage. 

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