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Updated on: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 03:50 AM IST

Component failure probable cause for satellite launch mishap

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New Delhi : India’s Bengaluru-based space agency Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has had a pretty impressive track record for two decades, but its latest venture with a private space set-up suffered a rare failure on Thursday when the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) failed to launch a navigation satellite into its designated orbit.

The failure was due to the non-separation of the heat shield of the PSLV which trapped the navigation satellite. “It could be due to failure of component quality or quality checks, but not a design failure,” space technology experts said.

“The PSLV rocket has been successful for the past several years. The question of design failure does not arise as it could be an issue of a failed component or a process quality issue,” said M.Y.S. Prasad, a former director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

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Satellites are housed atop the rocket and covered by a heat shield (payload fairing, in technical language) which protects them from getting burnt when the rocket crosses the atmosphere at high speed.

In Thursday’s mission, the heat shield should have separated just over three minutes into the flight so that navigation satellite IRNSS-1H could be ejected into orbit later, but it didn’t happen.

This is the first time that a satellite launch mission has failed due to this reason. “It is really perplexing that such a thing has happened. Normally, the PSLV rocket has several redundancies built into it,” R.V. Perumal, a former ISRO scientist said.

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Ruling out design failure, Prasad said the most probable cause of failure could be the quality of a rocket component or some error in the assembly of systems.

However, one positive aspect of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) failure is that all data are available up to satellite separation which would make the job of the failure analysis committee a bit easier.

The Indian space agency will also look at its quality check systems. One of India’s heaviest rockets, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), was lost due to a faulty component. In 2006, the GSLV-F02 went out of control less than a minute after lift-off and had to be destroyed in air after it started breaking up. The two successive failures of GSLV missions in 2010, resulting in a total loss of around Rs 600 crore (cost of rocket and satellites), had already stalled ISRO’s plans and it is only now that the GSLV rocket plans are getting back on its rails. But for two failures — one in 1993 and the other on Thursday — the PSLV has an excellent success record launching several Indian and foreign satellites.

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Published on: Sunday, September 03, 2017, 12:13 AM IST
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