During an August 11 launch, an upper stage of the Indian Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) malfunctioned, resulting in the loss of an imaging satellite.
At 8:13 p.m. Eastern, the GSLV took off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The first several stages of the launch, including the burns of 4 strap-on boosters, the first and second stages, and the separation of the rocket’s payload fairing, looked to go smoothly.
The second stage split 4 minutes and 55 seconds after the liftoff, with the upper stage’s cryogenic engine set to fire one second later. Based on animations generated from the launch vehicle telemetry provided on the webcast by Indian space agency ISRO, the stage seemed to start rolling and lose attitude control shortly later.
Telemetry panels showed the stage losing velocity and altitude at one point, and the animation plainly demonstrated the stage had lost attitude control. After a few minutes of quiet on the livestream, ISRO revealed that the deployment had failed.
According to K. Sivan, head of ISRO, the launch “could not be fully achieved due to a technical issue identified in the cryogenic stage.” He didn’t say anything else about the failure. The upper stage engine failed to ignite, according to an ISRO statement.
The GSLV, India’s largest launch vehicle, flew for the 14th and eighth times in the Mark 2 variant, which has an upper stage with a cryogenic engine made in India that utilizes liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The initial Mark 2 launch, in the year 2010, was not able to reach orbit due to an upper stage engine failure, but the following flights were effective until this most recent flight.
The GSLV was delivering the EOS-03 satellite, initially identified as GISAT-1. Although ISRO disclosed few technical specifics about the satellite, it was designed to deliver videos of India and its neighboring regions from geostationary orbit continuously but in low-resolution.
This rollout was delayed for about a year and a half. The launch was originally scheduled for March 2020 but was postponed due to an unnamed technical difficulty. The pandemic put the launch back to the spring of the year 2021 when another difficulty with the satellite and a new phase of the pandemic caused the launch to be further postponed.
Since December 2018, this was the very first GSLV Mark 2 launch. ISRO planned to launch another GSLV Mark 2 rocket later this year, with several more planned for 2022 and 2023. Most of those deployments will carry navigation, communications or imaging satellites, although one will carry NISAR, a NASA-ISRO-developed synthetic aperture radar Earth research mission. NISAR was supposed to deploy in early 2023 before this disaster.