Indian rocket explodes on launch

An Indian rocket was deliberately blown up on Christmas Day less than a minute after launch.

The rocket, part of a $66 million mission that was meant to launch an advanced communications satellite, was destroyed after it immediately started to veer off course following the launch in Chennai.

It means that of India’s seven rocket launches since 2001, four have failed. The last GSLV mission, in April, failed because the fuel booster turbo pump in the indigenous cryogenic stage failed.

Experts at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) say they believe the problem with the latest launch was that cables carrying control signals from the on-board computer to the first stage snapped.

However, an unnamed ISRO scientist told the Hindustan Times that he believed that the problem was caused by that feature of Indian transport familiar to anyone that’s ever visited the country – overloading.

“The cable snapping was the effect and not the cause of the mishap,” he said. “The cable joints cannot snap just like that.”

Certainly, the payload was greater than had ever before been carried by the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), at 2,310kg. It’s possible that this made it tilt unexpectedly, and too quickly for the control system to respond.

The rocket, built with Russian-designed engines, was carrying the GSAT-5P communication satellite, intended for telecom, television and weather transmissions. It will leave the country stretched for transponders to cope with India’s rapid growth in telecommunications, television, radio broadcasting and banking services.

Rather worryingly, the rocket is the same type  – a GSLV-Mark II – as is planned for use in the country’s planned Chandrayaan-2 orbital mission in 2013-14. And an upgraded version – the GSLV-Mark III – is currently under development for use in India’s first manned mission around 2016.