CHENNAI: Coming in as a huge disappointment, the much-anticipated launch of PSLV C-39, carrying IRNSS-1H, which was labelled as India’s first private sector-built satellite, was declared unsuccessful as heat shield failed to separate, trapping the satellite inside the enclosure.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which brought lot of joy with a series of breathtaking launches in recent past, suffered its first failure after seven years. The last unsuccessful launch was on December 25, 2010 when GSLV-F06 mission failed due to snag in stage-1.
Though the vehicle lifted-off normally at 6.59 pm from the second launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, as elegantly as it would and lit up the night skies, the smiles in the control room, where top ISRO officials were present, disappeared seconds before everyone thought they would hear the good news.
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 mission is unsuccessful. Everything in the vehicle — first stage, second stage, third stage and separation events — performed normally. But, the heat shield that protect 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 there is anything that ISRO would do to make good of the mission, Kumar clarified that there is no way the satellite can be separated from the heat shield. The entire fourth stage, along with the heat shield and satellite, had become virtually space junk, which meant a waste of about `250 crore.
“We were able to see in the cameras, the satellite getting separated internally and moving inside the heat shield enclosure. In an ideal scenario, heat shield separation should take place automatically. Once that happens, the satellite will get into the orbit. Here, the satellite is sitting inside the heat shield in the intended orbit. We can’t do anything about it because it’s a closed enclosure,” he further explained.
Kumar said the space agency was looking at the details of what went wrong. “Will do the detailed analysis to find out the reason,” he said. Reliable sources told Express that a high-level inquiry was ordered and the details would be made public in next two days. The preliminary information was shared with top bosses in the Union government.
To a query whether this failure would impact ISRO’s commercial interest, the chairman refused to put the blame on PSLV, which has been India’s workhorse and had successfully carried out 39 consecutive launches since the first developmental one failed in 1993. “All the stages have performed well. Only heat shield separation, command and subsequent operations would 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 to 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,” they said. 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 `400-crore company had been tasked to make 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”.
After ISRO’s failure to launch India’s private sector-built satellite, a chronology of previous such instances…