India’s new SSLV rocket suffers ‘data loss’ during maiden flight; the status of the satellites has not been accounted for

SEOUL, South Korea – The maiden flight of India’s newly developed Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) on August 6 went awry with “some loss of data” occurring in the final phase of the mission.

India’s space agency ISRO is analyzing data to know what happened and is also checking the status of the two satellites deployed from the rocket.

In an unscheduled post-launch announcement, ISRO chief S. Somanath said all stages had performed as expected, but “some loss of data” had occurred in the final phase of the flight. He did not provide further details. In a separate announcementISRO said the rocket hit a problem “about 12 minutes into flight,” which, based on the flight sequence announced before liftoff, could be somewhere between the satellite injection module’s ignition and the first satellite’s deployment.

The three-stage vehicle, capable of sending up to 500 kilograms of payload to 500 kilometers of low Earth orbit, lifted off at 11:48 p.m. Eastern on August 6 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center’s Launch Pad No. 1, carrying an ISRO-built 135 kilogram Earth observation satellite EOS-02 and an 8-kilogram kubesat AzaadiSATmade by Indian students.

Live recording showed the 34-meter-long rocket, decorated with India’s national flag, soaring into the air with bright yellow flames shooting from its engines. While the rocket’s three stages used solid fuel, called hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, its satellite injection module, called the Velocity Trimming Module (VTM), was powered by 0.05 tons of liquid fuel for precise deployment of satellites.

Flight events seen on the live screen. Credit: YouTube video still image

Flight events seen on the live screen heralded a smooth start to the rocket’s flight. The first stage was divided approx. two minutes after the ascent as scheduled, and the second leg did so 3.5 minutes later. Third stage separation occurred 10.7 minutes after liftoff. The last available data on the display was that the injection module ignition began 10.8 minutes after liftoff and “cutoff” immediately after. At one point, the footage showed the EOS-02 satellite being deployed from the module. The deployment of the second satellite, AzaadiSAT, was confirmed a couple of hours later.

ISRO developed SSLV with the objective of providing cheaper and more flexible access to space, compared to the two operational vehicles, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). To that end, the SSLV was designed to be configured with a simple modular interface, and the vehicle’s mounting can be done horizontally and vertically. “We can do the assembly in three or four days and launch in seven days,” The Times of India quoted a director at the Satish Dhawan Space Center as saying.

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