Amit Paranjape’s Blog

ISRO’s GSLV D3 Mission – A Failure? Or A Stepping Stone?

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on April 15, 2010


Lift-Off of GSLV-F04 (image credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a sad coincidence that today’s failure of ISRO’s GSLV D3 Mission happened virtually on the exact day, 40 years on, since Apollo 13! Post the safe splash-down return of Jim Lovell and crew in the Pacific Ocean, many dubbed Apollo 13 as NASA’s most successful failure. How will this first test flight of the ISRO’s indigenously developed cryogenic engine be viewed? Only time will tell.

Space missions are fraught with risks and failures. ISRO has had a reasonably good track record, especially if you compare it with the early days of the USA and USSR Space Programs. And ISRO has been able to achieve success on a literal shoe-string budget as compared to what the other space leaders have spent.

What is the big deal with the Cryogenic Engine? A Cryogenic Engine uses a liquid propellant (typically liquid hydrogen) that is stored at a very low temperature (below –200 C). The other engines that have been used in ISRO’s rockets (including the first two stages of today’s mission) are solid fuel propellant based. Cryogenic Engines deliver a longer duration and more powerful thrust, per unit weight of propellant. They can also be controlled more effectively as compared to solid fuel propellant engines. Hence Cryogenic Engines are critical, as the range and weight capabilities of space missions increase. GSLV rocket has been designed to put heavy payloads (communication satellites, etc.) into a ‘Geo-Synchronous’ orbit (36,000 km orbit around the from earth). It will also provide a basis for future ISRO Missions to the Moon and beyond.

A little after 4:30pm, Indian Standard Time, a huge cloud of gloom descended upon ISRO. The first two stages had performed per expectations. However the 3rd stage powered by the cryogenic engine failed and the flight deviated from its desired path. One look at the scientists faces on TV, said it all. The emotions were there to be seen. It is these emotions that highlight the passion of these scientists, in their quest for building a great space program. In the present age of every-hyped entertainment and sports heroes, it it these real heroes that we all need to be proud of.

I am confident that ISRO will bounce back successfully from today’s failure, with the 2nd test flight due later this year. The data and results will be analyzed and corrective actions taken. Let’s not forget the spectacular success of the recent Chandrayaan Mission!


GSLV Mission / ISRO – Some Useful Links

ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization)


Official Press Release from ISRO about the GSLV D3 Mission

Cryogenic  Rocket Engine

ISRO Wikipedia Entry

ISRO Chandrayaan Mission



4 Responses

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  1. Sameer M said, on April 16, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Not just India, but every other country has faced such failures with space missions. But ISRO has proven that they can rise from failures.
    Indegenious Cryogenic engines are most important for us as I guess there are only 1 or 2 remaining with us [which we bought from russia ages back]. And we still face the ban on technology from developed countries [disgusting].
    So lets keep fingers crossed that isro succeeds with next attempt.

  2. jayeshbaheti said, on April 16, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Honestly, was disappointed as many of us must have been hearing the news of failed launch. This is momentary though as these guys really work sincerely against the challenge of denial of technology. They have already have made strides on development in space sciences.
    This is one of the projects which surely will meet its meaningful end in days to come.

  3. Siddhartha Niyogi said, on April 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    One shouldn’t compare against failures of USA/USSR – they were true pioneers who developed the technology from scratch (though actually the true pioneers were the Germans – from whom both the US and USSR learned rocket technology, though not cryogenic technology). Cryogenic technology has been there since the 60s at least – India failed in 2010 after 17 years of development and having bought engines from Russia that could have (and most probably have) been reverse engineered.
    But I’m not saying this to denigrate our ISRO engineers – I think they’re doing a great job and will succeed eventually – I’m saying this so we don’t try and explain away or excuse our failures. We have to just focus on success and become the best

  4. Amit Paranjape said, on April 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Siddhartha, Good points.

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