India Succeeds in Return-to-Flight Launch of GSLV

India Succeeds in Return-to-Flight Launch of GSLV

India’s biggest rocket, the Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV), successfully returned to flight today, the first flight since double launch failures in 2010.

GSLV uses an indigenously produced cryogenic upper stage.   Originally, India had a deal with Russia to supply cryogenic engines, but the United States objected to the proliferation of technology.  As part of the U.S.-Russian agreement that brought Russia into the International Space Station (ISS) partnership, Russia agreed to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and reformulate its agreement with India to not provide technology or know-how.  India responded by deciding to produce the cryogenic engines themselves.   The “denial of technology” remains a sore point with India and was mentioned during the speeches following today’s successful launch.

India’s Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) lifts off from Sriharikota, India, January 5, 2014.  Photo credit:  Indian Space Research Organization.

Not counting today’s launch, of the seven GSLV 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 and two in 2010.  The other two were partial successes.

Without the GSLV, India has been forced to use its smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for missions — like the Mars Orbiter Mission launched in November — that could have benefitted from more thrust.  The most capable version of the PSLV can place 1,800 kilograms (about 4,000 pounds) into low Earth orbit (LEO) or 1,140 kilograms (about 2,500 pounds) into geostationary transfer orbit (GEO).  GSLV can launch 5,000 kilograms (about 11,000 pounds) into LEO and 2,500 kilograms (about 5,000 pounds) into GTO.  That is still modest compared to the most capable launch vehicles available in the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and China, but a considerable improvement over the PSLV.  (The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation publishes free reports with helpful tables comparing the various launch vehicles in the world.)

Today’s launch lofted India’s GSAT-14 communications satellites into GTO.  It has a mass of 1,982 kilograms and is equipped with 6 C-band and 6 Ku-band transponders and 2 Ka-band beacons to carry out attenuation studies.

The launch was originally scheduled for August 2013, but a second stage leak was detected an hour before launch.  Today’s launch, at 5:48 am Eastern Standard Time (4:18 pm Indian Standard Time, which is 10.5 hours ahead of EST), proceeded nominally.  India launches from Sriharikota, an island in the Bay of Bengal just off the southeastern coast of the Indian mainland.


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