SRIHARIKOTA: India’s popularity among the space-faring nations took a giant leap on Thursday with the national space agency – Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – successfully launching the first operational flight of GSLV Mk-II using home-grown cryogenic rocket technology, which only a few in the world have able to master. ISRO proudly declared that it has mastered the cryogens and is no longer ‘scared’.
But before the triumph, there was a hiccup. Due to an anomaly while filling fuel into cryogenic engine, the lift-off was delayed by 40 minutes. The initial launch was scheduled at 4.10 pm and the vehicle took off at 4.40 pm from the second launch pad. But, it registered zero difference in inclination, which is a rarity. Putting it in perspective with reference to past failures, ISRO officials said, the “naughty boy has turned out to be an adorable boy today”. This is the first hat-trick of GSLV and the seventh successful launch this year.
Designated as Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS)-07 flown onboard GSLV-Fo5 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, the vehicle placed the 2,211 kg advanced meteorological satellite INSAT-3DR in its intended geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) after 17 minutes of journey.
The mission catapulted India into the multi-billion dollar commercial launcher market on a fully indigenous large rocket. ISRO declared that GSLV-F05 is fully operational and it is exploring new avenues to attract business. India becomes the sixth nation in the world after US, Russia, Japan, China and France to have tasted success with an indigenous cryogenic engine.
Congratulating the team, ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar said this successful launch gave ISRO engineers confidence to approach the first developmental flight of GSLV Mk-III using a more powerful cryogenic engine in December-January. “We are intending to conduct two GSLV Mk II launches every year. We have a large number of satellites in the line-up to put them into orbit using GSLV Mk II, including the SAARC satellite, Chandrayaan-2 and the ISRO-NASA missions,” he said.
The private sector played an important role in development of cryogenic technology and was associated with the ISRO from the start. For example, Godrej set up the rotary vacuum brazing facility in Mumbai. Brazing was a key and difficult technology, and setting up the facility took more than a year. MTAR Technologies Pvt Ltd made the turbo pump and some other components.
Director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) S Somanath, who was earlier heading GSLV, said ISRO was now very confident about GSLV and the cryogens. “After the failure of our first mission GSLV D3 in 2010, we did a detailed analysis of the problem and lot of tests were done and the three consecutive successes were a result of that. The knowledge base has improved significantly,” he said.
GSLV D3 failed to reach orbit due to a malfunction in the Fuel Booster Turbo Pump (FBTP) of the cryogenic upper stage. The next GSLV F06 mission same year was also a failure and the range safety officer has to destroy it after loss of control over liquid-fueled boosters. Later, GSLV D5 scheduled for August 2013 was aborted and rescheduled for January 2014 after a leak was spotted in the eleventh hour. Since then, ISRO never looked back and reached a stage where Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial wing of ISRO, is putting the GSLV before the world as credible vehicle ready for commercial launches.
Nervous 40 minutes
Valve leak spotted
There was an air of anxiety and curiosity when the mission director R Umamaheswaran announced that the launch was delayed by 40 minutes. It led to a bit of speculation before the authorities put it on record that there was an anomaly detected while filling fuel into the cryogenic engine. The key authorisation was given at 4.31 pm, which indicated that all was set. While filling liquid oxygen, it was found a valve in the ground circuit opening and the gas was leaking. It was isolated through remote command.
ISRO gearing up for manned mission
ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar on Thursday hinted that the space agency was ready to take-up the manned mission. “We are developing various technologies that will send astronauts into the space. We have already carried out a space recovery experiment, re-entry module experiment, developing environmentally controlled chamber that sustain human life in space. There are more to follow. We are getting ready and it’s up to the country to tell us when and give the money,” he said indirectly sending a strong and positive message to the Centre. On inter-planetary mission, he said no project approvals have been taken so far. “We intend to carry out Chandrayaan-2 and Aditya mission first and then decide on inter-planetary projects.”
Why cryogenic tech complex?
A cryogenic rocket stage is more efficient and provides more thrust for every kilogram of propellant it burns compared to solid and earth-storable liquid propellant rocket stages, but is a very complex system because of its use of propellants at extremely low temperatures and the associated thermal and structural problems. Oxygen liquifies at -183 deg C and hydrogen at -253 deg C.
Marketing GSLV overseas
PSLV consolidated itself as small satellite launcher. GSLV comes as a high capacity vehicle. Globally, the total satellite business size is about $330 billion, of which $60 billion is satellite manufacturing and $5 billion is launch services component. Kiran Kumar refused to reveal the manufacturing cost of GSLV Mk II. “Definitely, the cost is competitive and people will be interested in using it for commercial launches.”
PSLV-C35 launch is scheduled later this month and the vehicle will carry eight satellites. One is SCATSAT-1, a continuity mission for Oceansat-2 Scatterometer to provide wind vector data products for weather forecasting, cyclone detection and tracking services to the users.