aPas of chance. On July 10, the Indian Space Agency ISRO conducted the launch of the Insat 4 c on a national launcher GSLV Mk1 telecommunications satellite. Had barely he it lit its main stage solid propellant pressure loss was reported on one of the four accelerators to liquid propellants. Images of the launch showed clearly the Launcher off "in crab", a deviated path of 10 , as soon as the first metres. 40 Seconds, the Launcher left its corridor and twenty seconds later, to 15 km altitude, it broke before falling in the Gulf of Bengal, 7 km off the coast of the island of Sriharikota, near Madras, where the centre of Indian launch of Satish Dhawan.
This was the second failure of the launch vehicle GSLV in four missions. During its maiden flight, the Indian geostationary Launcher could place its load on a geostationary transfer orbit due to a performance deficit which was translated by an apogee 4,000 km lower than expected. The fault was then on the third floor 12KRB cryogenic, provided by the Russian industrialist GKNPTs Khrounichev, who had died prematurely.
The investigation on this new failure has been carried out and, on 18 July, a team of divers assisted by a submarine robot began to search the debris of the Launcher by 15 m deep, on an area of 4 hectares. Already, one of four accelerators Vikas engine was recovered.
A strategic motor
The Vikas - burning of the storable hypergolic (UDMH and nitrogen peroxide) - is the Indian version of the European engine Viking who fitted the Ariane 1 to 4 and has reached a rate of record reliability of 99.8 in operation (two failures on 922 ignitions).
Before this last flight, ISRO has already flown 23 engines Vikas without problem and more than 50 were derived by counting the development models. Only problem already found, at the first attempt of launch of GSLV, on 28 March 2001, the mission had to be aborted a second before take-off, when one of the four liquid propellant accelerators Vikas suffered a decrease in pressure. A similar, but detected too late, could be the cause of the failure.
The failure of the Vikas is a harsh blow to the Indian space transportation, because this team not only accelerators of the GSLV, but also his second floor as well as the launch vehicle PSLV. Therefore, the whole fleet of Indian launch vehicles is prohibited flight until further notice.
This judgment of launches comes just at the moment where the India, which is limited to date at a rate of one or two flights a year, had to move up a gear with the entry into service of a second not shooting, to serve its national needs, but also to make a few launches business at competitive prices, about four times cheaper than equivalent Western launches.
A manifest cluttered
The two first payloads commercial from dedicated launch, the Italian scientific satellite Agile for gamma-ray astronomy and the Israeli radar TechSAR observation satellite, should embark on launchers PSLV-CA - a lightweight version of the PSLV without its accelerators powder - in the coming months, but their launch had already to be postponed to 2007 for delay in obtaining export regulation permits us Itar.
A PSLV ought to be launched in the fall of the satellite Cartosat 2 Indian observation and the first retrievable capsule of ISRO.
All these launches are likely to come clogging up a planning already busy for 2007, since the ISRO had planned to test the Mk2 of GSLV, equipped with a third floor cryogenic India to replace the Russian 12KRB, and finally the development of a "heavy" version Mk3 with a different architecture, inspired by the American launchers Titan: a central body propelled by two engines hypergolic Vikas and flanked by two large accelerators to powder. As of 2008, the GSLV Mk3 should allow the India to escape gradually its dependence on the launchers foreigners (in the case of Ariane 5) for its telecommunications satellites orbit. Five Insat 4 and Insat 3 have yet to be launched by 2010, including one on Ariane 5 and the other on the various versions of the GSLV.
The Agni 3 failed
Chance of unfortunate timing, the failure of the GSLV intervened in the aftermath of another Indian major program: the first firing of the Agni 3 intermediate-range ballistic missile. After a takeoff without incident from the Wheeler Island, near Balasore database, in the State of Orissa, the missile at an altitude of 12 km before falling in the Gulf of Bengal.
According to the first which have filtered in ORDD (Defence Research & Development Organization), the Indian military agency in charge of technological developments, it would seem that the second floor of the missile not to is not lit, thus preventing its separation (technology "fire in the hole").
Unlike early versions of the missile Agni (Agni 1, 2, 2AT), the Agni-3 missile is not derived from the series of small launchers SLV-3/ASLV of ISRO. In fact, would be the first missile long-range solid rocket ever developed by the ORDD. However, the industrial tools used in its production must be the same as for previous generations and ISRO launchers. Designed to be fired mobile mountings and even submarines, 3 Agni is a missile compact stage of about 32 tonnes to 12.6 m high and 1.8 m in diameter. It carrying a payload of 1.5 tons to 3 500 km, which makes it an approximate equivalent of the M45 which team the French nuclear submarines. It is indeed intended for fire response in case of nuclear attack on the India and its scope would meet Chinese key centres (Agni 1 and 2 already involving the entire scope of the late Indian nuclear Pakistan territory). The first firing of the Agni 3 was planned late 2004, but it was postponed for more than 18 months for political reasons, to not complicate the negotiations on nuclear cooperation with the United States.
The challenge of quality
These two consecutive failures leave a doubt on the ability of the industry of Indian launch vehicles regularly produce reliable launchers. The maintenance of an effective quality control is made difficult by the low rate of production and shooting of launchers and Indian missiles. However, technologies employed and implicated in these latest failures have already been widely proven and corrective measures should be identified and implemented quickly. The real challenge for the India remains to complete the development of its first cryogenic - technology forgiving hardly any error - engine and a truly optimized launch vehicle, GSLV Mk3, to his place on the international market of launches.
On the Indian satellite industry, it is, for the moment, not affected by the current crisis. The loss of the Insat 4 c, the largest satellite ever placed on an Indian Launcher, should lead a new command, even though I - 2 K and I - 3 K Indian platforms have been selected in May and February for satellites Europeans Hylas and W2M via an offer with EADS Astrium.
Soyuz 2 nailed to the ground
For its first orbital flight, the new Soyuz 2-1a chained the setbacks with a succession of incidents which might be related to the implementation of its new digital avionics. It has been introduced to ensure the steering of the Launcher with a new cap of 4 m in diameter, inspired by that of Ariane 4 and able to embark on commercial satellites. The July 17 launch attempt, with the European meteorological satellite MetOP-A, has been canceled because a bad parameter was introduced in the initialization of the inertial. To save time on the next attempt, the Launcher did had not been entirely drained which terrified his tank gauges and is (wrongly) suspected his analog to digital converter. July 19, the chronology was interrupted 139 seconds of takeoff, when the command of purging the turbopumps was not received by the Launcher. It has therefore been reduced in Assembly hall at Baikonur for removal of its payload, prior to be repatriated to Samara to be refurbished. A minimum two-month delay is envisaged.
These hazards concerned the teams of the CNES satellite CoRoT, intended for the detection of extra-solar planets, will be the passenger of the first Soyuz 2 - 1b - with digital avionics and a new third floor-, in the fall. The offset of the campaigns could also affect the launch of GIOVE-B of the ESA by a Soyuz FG at year end. The two versions of the Launcher Soyuz 2, alias Soyuz/ST, were developed with the support of Europeans via Starsem. The Soyuz 2 - 1b version will be operated from the Guiana Space Center starting in November 2008.