PSLV C-16 mission successful

Dr Kasturirangan, former ISRO Chairman described today’s successful PSLV-C16 mission the best. “Thank you for a wonderful though tense 18 minutes”. At the end of the 18 minutes, all the stages of the PSLV hadperformed very well and placed in orbit 3 satellites – RESOURCESAT-2, YOUTHSAT and XSat.

This, the first launch of 2011 was done under some tremendous pressures to get it right. This Forbes article that came out a day ago best summarizes the trouble that ISRO has had beginning all the way from the failed GSLV launch in April 2010. The only positive in the last one year has been the PSLV launch. This put extra pressure on the PSLV team to perform well.

Today morning began with this report in the Times of India regarding the GSLV failure of December, 2010. The report implicates a design flaw in the GSLV’s payload fairing which caused the fairing to deform and caused the connectors to snap. This led to a loss of computer control of the four strap-on boosters of the GSLV which caused it to veer off track. The vehicle disintegrated even as the Range Safety Officer destroyed the vehicle for purposes of safety. I thought this could not be a great way to start a launch day! However, these words spoken by Madhavan Nair made sense: “A successful flight of the GSLV is not an impossibility”. Now that we had a fix on what the problem was, it could be corrected and we could have a GSLV flight later this year or early next year.

I was as tense as ever and was surfing the channels and keeping a watch on my twitter account and looking at webcasts which many people had requested a link to. The webcast seemed down although Doordarshan flashed a message about the time when the transmission from Sriharikota would begin – 9:40 am. As the message flashed, the webcast came back online even though it was running through news reports.

As the national channel of Doordarshan went through the documentary about the testing and integrations of the PSLV and the satellites, I kept tweeting the minutes to lift-off at ten minute intervals. By this time I was really tense! The PSLV stood majestically on the launch pad. Close to 14 minutes, the Automatic Launch Sequence was started and the rocket went completely under computer control. 3 minutes…the tension in my living room seemed comparable to the tension in the mission control. The former ISRO chiefs and Russian and Singaporean delegates looked anxiously and seemed to talk to avoid tension of silence. The check out was being read in the south Indian accent in the background – perhaps to provide some comic relief.

As the countdown started 10 … 9 … 8 ……. 3 … 2… 1, the mood in my living room and mission control went into silence as the PSLV rose in splendour and rose above the launch pad. I remembered the GSLV launch and was praying that the PSLV would not lose altitude and fall into the Bay. But, it rose and rose until it went into a cloud bank and erupted out as a round of applause went throughout the room as the Air-lit strap-on boosters fired on cue. Throughout its major timeline events – Stage 1 seperation, Stage 2 ignition, heat shield seperation, Stage 2 seperation, Stage 3 ignition, Stage 3 seperation, Stage 4 ignition, RESOURCESAT-2 deployment and YOUTHSAT and XSat deployments, the mission almost followed the mission plan.

It was all smiles in the Mission Control and at home, as ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan congratulated his team members and immediately went to meet M G K Menon and Kasturirangan who had smiles on their faces. Afterward, as the Minister of State spoke or the former ISRO Chairmen spoke or as the Directors of the Center and the PSLV Mission Director spoke, there was a huge smile and a great sense of relief in everyone’s faces. Conspicuous by his absence was former ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair who was the first Mission Director of the PSLV.

As they began to break up, the clamor from my brother grew because he wanted to play on the computer. I just felt relief. I am sure this was a great confidence booster for ISRO. I hope they will use this boost to work positively towards the other 3 launches scheduled for this year and the various other projects that ISRO has jam packed throughout 2011. There is now a huge backlog for ISRO to clear. And as Kasturirangan said, Thank You, ISRO for a wonderful and tense 18 minutes today morning.

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