Another Setback for India's GSLV Rocket

Another Setback for India's GSLV Rocket

Instead of celebrating the return to flight of its GSLV rocket today, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is trying to determine what caused a second stage leak that resulted in a scrub just about an hour before launch.   The rocket is being returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building; no new launch date was announced.

The Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is launched from India’s Sriharikota space center on a barrier island in the Bay of Bengal.  It uses a cryogenic upper stage, making it capable of launching larger satellites into geostationary orbit than India’s workhorse PSLV rocket.  The cryogenic upper stage initially was based on Russian technology, a factor in U.S.-Russian negotiations that, in part, led to Russia becoming a partner in the International Space Station (ISS) program.   ISRO is careful to state that today’s GSLV uses an indigenous cyrogenic upper stage design.

The GSLV has a poor track record, however.  Of seven development and operational launches since 2001, only two were complete successes (the second development flight in 2003 and the first operational launch in 2004).    Three were complete failures (one in 2006, two in 2010).  The other two were partial successes.

Today’s scheduled launch was to mark the comeback of the rocket, launching India’s GSAT-14 advanced communications satellite into orbit.  This version of the GSLV is designed to launch 2.2 tonnes into geostationary orbit, but ISRO’s goal is a model that can launch 4 tonnes.

The Indo-Asian News Service reports that many design changes were made after the dual failures in 2010, including several related to the cryogenic engine as well as a “revised aerodynamic characterisation of the entire rocket.”

It was not the cryogenic upper stage that was the problem today, however, but the liquid-fueled second stage.  The launch was scrubbed one hour and 14 minutes before scheduled liftoff when a fuel leak was detected in that stage.

ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan told reporters that engineers “need to make an assessment of the cause of the leak and the actions to be taken before further preparations for the next launch.”

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