PSLV fails to deploy India's first privately built satellite, ISRO looking for answers

This is the first launch failure for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in seven years. The last unsuccessful launch was on December 25, 2010, when a GSLV-F06 mission failed due to snag.

Published: 31st August 2017 07:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st September 2017 12:21 AM   |  A+A-

The IRNSS-1H, was built by a consortium led by Alpha Design Technologies, a defence equipment supplier from Bengaluru, over eight months. | PTI

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In a huge disappointment for ISRO, the much-anticipated launch of PSLV C-39 carrying IRNSS-1H, India's first private-sector built satellite, has been declared unsuccessful. The heat shield failed to separate, trapping the satellite inside its enclosure. 

This is the first launch failure for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in seven years. The last unsuccessful launch was on December 25, 2010, when a GSLV-F06 mission failed due to a snag in stage-1. 

Everything began well in today's launch.The workhorse PSLV launch vehicle lifted off normally at 6.59 pm from the second launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, but even as it lit up the night sky, the smiles in the control room began to fade as they realised that the heat shield did not separate from the satellite. 

ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar, who was visibly upset, announced, without wasting any time, that the mission was unsuccessful. Later, addressing a brief press conference along with S Somanath, director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) and SDSC-SHAR director P Kunhikrishnan, Kumar said: "This is mission is unsuccessful. Everything in the vehicle -- first stage, second stage, third stage and seperation events -- performed normally. But, the heat shield that protects the satellite within the atmospheric regime didn't separate. As a result, the satellite is sitting inside the enclosure," he said. 

When Express asked whether is there anything that ISRO could do to make good of the mission, Kumar clarified that there was no way the satellite can now be separated from the heat shield. The entire fourth stage, along with the heat shield and satellite, have become virtual space junk -- a waste of about Rs 250 crore. 

"We were able to see on camera that the satellite was getting separated internally and moving inside the heat shield enclosure. In an ideal scenario, the heat shield separation should take place automatically. Once that happens, the satellite will get into orbit. Here, the satellite is still sitting inside the heat shield in the intended orbit. We can't do anything about it because it's a closed enclosure," Kumar explained. 

The ISRO chairman said the space agency was combing through the details to check what might have gone wrong.

"Will do a detailed analysis to find out the reason," he said. Express has learned from reliable sources that a high-level inquiry has been ordered and that the details would be made public in next two days. Top bosses in the Union government have, of course, been informed of the preliminary information. 

To a query on whether this failure would impact ISRO's commercial interest, the chairman refused to put the blame on the PSLV, India's workhorse which has successfully carried out 39 consecutive launches. "All the stages have performed well. Only the heat shield separation, command and subsequent operations could not be completed. We have to analysis the details to pinpoint the exact reasons for the failure."  

"Attacking private industry unfair"

Senior ISRO officials with whom Express spoke said that through the private sector built the satellite, it can't be held liable for the failure. "It would be unfair to target the private sector for the failure,"  Kumar said at the press conference.

The IRNSS-1H, was built by a consortium led by Alpha Design Technologies, a defence equipment supplier from Bengaluru, over eight months. Led by Colonel HS Shankar, a team of 70 scientists from ISRO supervised the operations.The Rs 400-crore company had been tasked with making two satellites. The second is expected to be finished by April 2018.

IRNSS stands for Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. But during the launch of its seventh satellite in April 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had christened the system NAViC, which stands for "Navigation with Indian Constellation".

Chronology of ISRO's failed launches

August 31, 2017: PSLV-C39/IRNSS-1H launch mission failed as heat shield does not separate from the satellite.

December 25, 2010: GSLV-F06 launch unsuccessful due to snag in stage-1

April 15, 2010: Launch of GSLV-D3 developmental flight carrying GSAT4 onboard fails, plunges into sea.

July 10, 2006: The Second operational flight of GSLV (GSLV-F02) with INSAT-4C onboard could not be placed in orbit. Rocket falls into sea.

September 20, 1993: The First developmental launch of PSLV with IRS-1E on board:. The satellite could not be placed in orbit.

July 13, 1988: The Second developmental launch of ASLV, SROSS-2 satellite which was on board could not be placed in orbit.

March 24, 1987: The First developmental launch of ASLV with SROSS-1 satellite on board. Satellite could not be placed in orbit.

August 10, 1979: The satellite of the first experimental launch of SLV-3, Rohini Technology Payload, could not be placed in orbit.

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