Preliminary Findings of the GSLV Failure

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 31, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

ISRO has just posted the preliminary findings of the GSLV Failure. This is what it has to say on what happened:

The performance of the GSLV-F06 flight of December 25, 2010 (with GSAT-5P Satellite onboard) was normal up to 47.5 seconds from lift-off. The events leading to the failure got initiated at 47.8 seconds after lift-off. Soon, the vehicle started developing larger errors in its orientation leading to build-up of higher angle of attack and higher structural loads and consequently vehicle broke up at 53.8 seconds from lift-off (as seen visually as well as from the Radars).

As per the Range safety norms, a destruct command was issued from the ground at 64 seconds after lift-off. The flight was hence terminated in the regime of the First Stage itself.

After this ISRO constituted a preliminary failure committee which has found this:

The finding of the Preliminary Failure Analysis Team is that the primary cause of the failure is the untimely and inadvertent snapping of a group of 10 connectors located at the bottom portion of the Russian Cryogenic Stage. Some of these connectors carry command signals from the onboard computer residing in the Equipment Bay (located near the top of the vehicle) to the control electronics of the four L40 Strap-ons of the First Stage. These connectors are intended to be separated only on issue of a separation command at 292 seconds after lift-off. The premature snapping of these connectors has led to stoppage of continuous flow of control commands to the First Stage control electronics, consequently leading to loss of control and break-up of the vehicle. The exact cause of snapping of the set of connectors, whether due to external forces like vibration, dynamic pressure is to be analysed further and pin-pointed.

The full Failure Analysis Committee has also been constituted under the chairmanship of former ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair to not only to analyse not only to go into the problems of the GSLV’s current flight but also of the six previous flights and the corrective actions for both the GSLV and the use of the remaining one Russian cryogenic engine. The committee has 11 members from both inside and outside ISRO. This is definitely a positive outcome and also the fact that it has been given a timeline of up to January 2011 to present their report.

Although seemingly late, they have also constituted a Programme Review and Strategy Committee. This will look into the broader implications for the GSLV Programme, assured launches of INSAT-3D and Chandrayaan-II, operationalisation of the indigenous cryogenic stage and meeting the immediate shortage of transponders being faced by the nation. This seven member Committee will be chaired by another former ISRO Chairperson, K Kasturirangan.

These reports will submit their reports in January 2011 to a National Experts Panel that will study the report. Although, what the output of this panel will be is not sure. They hope to complete the whole process by February 2011.

In parallel, a Panel has been setup under Dr. S C Gupta, a former member of the Space Commission to solicit views from within ISRO for gearing up for the upcoming space missions. These will be submitted to Chairman, ISRO.

In all, an exhaustive review of all matters pertaining to or related to the GSLV Programme will be carried out. We hope this will help ISRO emerge stronger and hope a re-invented GSLV programme follows. There is still no idea on whether these reports will be made available to the scientific community at large in India and abroad as done by NASA and ESA. The Preliminary Findings have come out in 5 days. This is certainly going to be a strenuous New Year but it will ensure many more happier New Years in the future!

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