Sriharikota (Andhra Pradesh): India`s space programme suffered a second successive blow in 2010 as an advanced communication satellite - GSAT-5P - exploded just after a minute of its launch from here on Christmas day Saturday.
The geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-F06), launching a heavy communication satellite from the Sriharikota spaceport, exploded just a minute after launch Saturday evening.
The failure comes nine months after the previous rocket - GSAT-D3 - failed April 15.
India`s top space scientists expressed anguish over the failed rocket mission, especially in the first stage, but said it would not be a setback to future space programmes.
The Rs.125 crore GSLV satellite failed to respond to its instructions and became debris in a matter of 63 seconds after lift-off.
The Range Safety Officer saw the vehicle breaking up and decided to destruct the rocket mid-air, 63 seconds after the lift off.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan said the first stage went smoothly till 50 seconds but the rocket started failing after that.
"The controllability was lost 45 seconds after the lift-off. The control commands to the four strap on motors of the first stage did not reach," Radhakrishnan told reporters.
"There was no design fault in the rocket. We suspect the four connectors to the strap-on motors got snapped," Radhakrishnan said.
"The rocket was destructed when it was at an altitude of 8 km and 2.5 km from the Sriharikota coast. The debris fell into the Bay of Bengal," Radhakrishnan said.
The 2,310 kg GSAT-5P satellite was launched at 4.04 p.m. in clear sky from the space centre, to serve the needs of the telecommunication sector and the weather department.
The Rs.300 crore project was also to retire the INSAT-2E satellite, sent up in 1999.
It rose into the sky with a deep roar, emitting thick orange flame at its tail. And suddenly it exploded -- and disintegrated.
Former ISRO chairman K. Kasturirangan, expressing disappointment, told IANS: "The outcome is very disappointing and sad because we had very high confidence on the launch.
"We have to check the telemetry data to find out how and why the rocket deviated from the flight path after a perfect lift-off," he observed.
Kasturirangan, a Planning Commission member, said a snag in the first stage was most unexpected.
Early this year (April 15), the GSLV-D3 launch failed when the indigenous cryogenic engine did not ignite and burn in the third stage to provide the required velocity to inject the satellite (GSAT-4) into the geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Saturday`s launch was originally scheduled for Dec 20 but was aborted a day earlier after a leak was detected in one of the valves of the Russian-made cryogenic engine.
Later, tests ensured the stability of the valve. The ISRO gave the go-ahead for a Christmas day launch.
The Russians had supplied seven cryogenic engines long back, and India has used six of them till date.
Former ISRO chairman U.R. Rao said it was the first time he had seen a failure in the first stage of the launch.
"Though it is unfair to comment without the telemetry data, the failure could have been due to any of the factors, including solid propellant leak or failure of control system," Rao said.
The first two stages of rocket launches are common for PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) and GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).
"I do not call it a setback as failures are common in rocket/space missions. We are really dealing with rocket science here, which requires 100 percent accuracy in everything we do, be it the design, structure, components, system, fuel and processes. A minor glitch in any of them can cause trouble," Rao told IANS.
K.R. Sridhara Murthy, former managing director of Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the space agency, said the scientists were all quite disappointed with the consecutive failure of the GSLV.
"I don`t think such a failure will be a major set back to our space or launch programmes. We have to overcome the problem to achieve the success rate we have seen with the launch missions of PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicles)," Murthy said.
The GSAT-5P satellite was supposed to have a life span of over 13 years. It had 36 transponders - automatic receivers and transmitters for communication and broadcast of signals.
Its successful launch would have taken ISRO`s transponder capacity to about 235, from the 200 currently in the orbit.
According to Radhakrishnan, ISRO will lease necessary transponders to provide continuity of services to its customers.
"We may shift some of the customers to our existing transponders," he said.
Radhakrishnan said ISRO will be launching communication satellite GSAT-8 by March/April 2011 from French Guyana using Ariane rocket, which will be followed by GSAT-9 and GSAT-10.
However, it will be launching a GSAT-12 satellite using its other rocket - polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) next year.
Radhakrishnan said he will be sending up PSLV rocket with a remote sensing satellite Resourcesat next February. Piggy backing on that will be two small satellites.
"One is built by Moscow University and ISRO, and the other is by Singapore University," he said.
In September 2007, when ISRO flew the GSLV to put into orbit the INSAT-4CR communication satellite, the rocket had faced a valve problem.
ISRO launched another major satellites in 2010 - remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2, which was placed successfully in the orbit.
ISRO has many communication satellites in service - INSAT 2E, INSAT 3A, INSAT 3B, INSAT 3C, INSAT 3E, INSAT 4A, INSAT 4CR and INSAT 4B working at 50 percent capability.