Indian GSLV launch fails

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Updated 4 a.m. Eastern Aug. 12.

WASHINGTON — An Indian Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) suffered a malfunction of its upper stage during an Aug. 11 launch, causing the loss of an imaging satellite.

The GSLV lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 8:13 p.m. Eastern. The initial phases of the flight, including burns by four strap-on boosters and the first and second stages, appeared to go as planned, as did the separation of the rocket’s payload fairing.

Four minutes and 55 seconds after liftoff, the second stage separated with the the upper stage’s cryogenic engine scheduled to ignite one second later. The stage appeared to start to roll and lose attitude control moments later, based on animations derived from launch vehicle telemetry shown on the webcast by the Indian space agency ISRO.

At one point, telemetry screens showed the stage losing altitude and velocity, while the animation showed the stage had clearly lost attitude control. Minutes of silence followed on the webcast before ISRO confirmed that the launch had failed.

The launch “could not be fully accomplished mainly because of a technical anomaly observed in the cryogenic stage,” K. Sivan, chairman of ISRO, said. He offered no other details about the failure. In a brief statement, ISRO said that the upper stage engine failed to ignite.

The launch was the 14th flight of the GSLV, India’s largest launch vehicle, and the eighth of the Mark 2 version, which has an upper stage with a domestically developed cryogenic engine that uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The first Mark 2 launch, in 2010, failed to reach orbit because of a failure of that upper stage engine, but subsequent launches were successful until this latest flight.

The GSLV was carrying a satellite called EOS-03, previously known as GISAT-1. The satellite was to provide continuous, but relatively low resolution, imagery of India and surrounding regions from geostationary orbit, although ISRO released few technical details about the satellite.

This launch suffered nearly a year and a half of delays. The launch was planned for March 2020 but delayed by an unspecified technical issue. The pandemic pushed the launch into the spring of 2021, when another issue with the satellite, and a new wave of the pandemic, further delayed the launch.

This was the first GSLV Mark 2 launch since December 2018. ISRO had expected to perform another GSLV Mark 2 launch later this year with several more to follow in 2022 and 2023. Most of those launches will carry communications, navigation or imaging satellites, but one will carry NISAR, a synthetic aperture radar Earth science mission being jointly developed by NASA and ISRO. Before this failure NISAR was scheduled to launch in early 2023.