Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh: As countdown begins, feverish work is underway at India’s space port in Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota as the Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO prepares for a landmark launch of its heavy rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The rocket had suffered a spectacular back-to-back failure three years ago forcing the abortion of the launch at the last minute.
For the second time, India will be using an Indian-made cryogenic engine while launching the advanced communications satellite. In its last attempt in August, it had a near-fatal mishap when a fuel leak was detected in the nick of time and the launch stopped an hour before liftoff.
ISRO scientists had found to their horror that about 750 kilograms of highly inflammable and explosive fuel had actually leaked out from the second stage.
“We have had a mixed bag of results of the GSLV in the earlier seven flights. All necessary corrections have been done on the GSLV and the cryogenic engine now we have now done our best expect it to be successful flight,” K Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO told NDTV.
If all goes well, this trial by fire could mark the first steps towards India’s entry into the multi-billion dollar commercial launcher market on a fully indigenous large rocket. A sophisticated new Indian technology called the cryogenic engine will be flown for the second time.
The India-made Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle powers the rocket, standing almost 50 meters tall – as high as a 17-storey building – and weighing 415 tons or as much 80 full grown elephants.
It is a three-stage rocket.
At liftoff, the first stage ignites using one of the world’s largest solid fuel motors. The first stage separates and the second stage powered by a liquid engine takes over while the heat shield is shed.
At about 130 kilometers above the earth, the second stage separates and the all-important cryogenic engine takes over. Using cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as fuel, the engine helps launch heavier satellites into space. After a 17-minute flight the satellite is expected to be put into its designated orbit above earth.
India’s larger rocket has had only two successful flights; this will be the eight time it is being flown in 13 years. Four years ago on April 15, 2010, a disaster struck the GSLV program on when an India-made cryogenic engine failed.
Then on Christmas Day the same year, a rocket was destroyed in mid-air as ISRO lost its control.
In these four years, ISRO has built new facilities to test the cryogenic engine, redesigned some of the crucial components and has finally mustered courage to have another go. It took India more than 20 years to develop this cryogenic engine technology which was denied to India.
The Rs. 350-crore mission, which will hoist a sophisticated experimental communications satellite, is a gentle reminder that space remains a risky business and that denial of technology failed to work against India.