GSLV-F06 flight unsuccessful

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 26, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The seventh flight of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) designated F06 ended when the launch vehicle was destroyed by a manual self-destruct button activated by the Range Safety Officer. The destruct button was used when the first stage suffered a “technical glitch” and the vehicle started veering off its designated path.

At a press conference, ISRO Chairman Dr. Radhakrishnan explained:

Its performance was normal for 50 seconds after the lift-off. “Soon afterwards, the vehicle’s attitude was increasing, leading to heavier structural loads, higher angle of attack and breaking up of the vehicle.” The Range Safety Officer in the Mission Control Centre gave the ‘destruct’ command to the vehicle 63 seconds after the lift-off from its second launch pad and it was destroyed.

Although I told Srinivas Laxman and am quoted as saying that I would want the whole vehicle to undergo testing again, VSSC Director P S Veeraraghavan said that the fundamental vehicle design was good and it was possibly the connector snapping that caused the mission failure.  I would say such a comment is still premature. We should still wait for the Analysis Report to come out before making comments. Radhakrishnan is quoted as saying in the same article that the entire GSLV programme will be reviewed.

Prof U R Rao, former ISRO Chairman commented in the Times of India that the programmes such as Chandrayaan-II and Human Spaceflight will not be affected since they are different vehicles, perhaps alluding to the fact that GSLV Mk-III may be used for these.

I believe that ISRO must work on a different stack for the 2 – 6 tonne class satellite launch vehicles. Perhaps, a downgraded version of GSLV Mk-III architecture can be used or a 4-stage GSLV are can be used for this class of launch vehicles. Two failures in six months does not provide sufficient confidence in trusting the vehicle with precious cargoes such as Chandrayaan-II or humans. That, or the whole configuration must be tested again. This may cost more money but it is much better than loosing payloads to accidents.

I am really confident with the scientists and their work in ISRO but this should also encourage them to encourage budding rocketeers in the country. Fields like amateur rocketry will give them a large and experienced talent pool of do-ers who can then easily be upgraded to scientists working on Indian launch vehicles programme. ISRO has done service by encouraging the next generation of satellite engineers through work at nano and cube satellites.

Spaceflight Now cleared some of the doubts I had about how a 12.5 tonne engine could be made to accomodate 15.3 tonnes of cryogenic fuel in the third cryogenic stage:

GSAT 5P’s weight forced Russian and Indian engineers to modify parts of the rocket to lift the satellite, which is the heaviest spacecraft ever orbited by ISRO. The Russian third stage was lengthened 3.6 feet to fit an extra 6,000 pounds of propellant inside. The additional cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen was designed to permit the upper stage engine to burn about two minutes longer than on previous flights.

It is this sort of attention-to-detail that was missing in Indian media. They also continually said that the Indian satellite exploded, referred to the weight of the GSAT-5P as 2130 kg instead of 2310 kg and repeatedly called “scientists” space experts. Many of the said space experts were also forced to comment on a situation without much data being made available and were then sensationalized as banner and news ticker stories.

It is also now clear that the helium gas leak was fixed rather than found to be within acceptable risk limits. It is also wrong to claim that it was the Russian cryogenic engine which caused trouble and that ISRO should have checked it as was ripe in the initial minutes after the scenes of disaster played itself out on television screens. It is easier to blame and much difficult to fix. As Prof. Rao says there is a huge amount of data needs to be checked to identify all the various points that seem to/could or have failed.

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