GSLV Failure: What does it mean for India's Space Aspirations?
India's space scientists believe that the failure of the GSLV-5P communication satellite launch is tragic and the disintegration of the launch vehicle minutes into the launch as a major setback to India's space aspirations. It follows the failure of GSLV D3 in April, which had an indigenous cryogenic third stage. Although in April, the critical cryogenic stage, had developed a snag, the recent failure is in the first stage, which had been hundred percent success in the past. This further baffles the ISRO as they never expected something of this nature to happen. The current launch vehicle had a Russian made cryogenic engine.
What's at stake?
ISRO has plans to send a manned mission carrying two vyomanauts(the name by which Indian astronauts will be referred) into space by 2016. Together with that, ISRO has plans to augment the current INSAT series of satellites to INSAT-4 series which are very heavy, around 4000-5000 kg. ISRO has planned to develop GSLV mark III launch vehicle which will have the carrying capacity in the range of 10,000 kgs. The current launch was a predecessor to this illustrious launch vehicle. At the moment, only five countries, USA, France, Japan, China and Russia have the technology to send such heavy satellites into orbit. As a result, ISRO is not able to tap into the multi-crore dollar satellite launch market. It is interesting to note that scientists believe that ISRO might be left behind if the current efforts do not bring the expected success.
The Cryogenic Puzzle
Success in this whole mission depends on the critical Cryogenic rocket stage, whose technology has been denied to India. As a result, the ISRO mission has been pushed back by a few years. As a result, India has been trying to develop an indigenous Cryogenic stage, which has liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidant.
A cryogenic engine has both its fuel and the oxidizer as gases which have been liquefied and stored at low temperatures in the range of −150 °C. Rocket engines need high mass flow rate of both oxidizer and fuel to generate a sufficient thrust. Initially, oxygen and low molecular weight hydrocarbons were used as oxidizer and fuel pair. At room temperature and pressure, both are in gaseous state. Hypothetically, if propellants had been stored as pressurized gases, the size and mass of fuel tanks themselves would severely decrease rocket efficiency. Therefor, to get the required mass flow rate, the only option is to cool the propellants down to cryogenic temperatures (below −150 °C, −238 °F), converting them to liquid form.
The third stage of the GSLV also needs a cryogenic rocket, which, thus far, the ISRO has not been able to successfully develop. ISRO has used Russian made cryogenic rockets in the past. But, to be self-sufficient in the satellite launch business and to successfully send manned missions into space, mastery of this critical puzzle is paramount.
But, We are close
Indian space scientists are confident that ISRO will be able to put the final pieces of this puzzle and will soon join the elite league of nations with the capability to launch very heavy satellites into geostationary orbits.