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Indian Rocket Explodes Seconds After Liftoff

December 26, 2010

An Indian space rocket carrying an advanced communications satellite exploded in smoke and fire just seconds after lifting off from a launch pad at the Sriharikota space center in Andhra Pradesh state, about 50 miles from the city of Chennai.

The Christmas Day launch of the satellite had originally been planned for December 20, but was delayed after engineers discovered a leak in one of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle’s (GSLV) engines, the United News of India reported.

The GSLV was carrying a GSAT-5P communication satellite into orbit when it strayed from its planned flight path, and was deliberately blown up by mission control 47 seconds after liftoff, according to state-owned Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan.

Radhakrishnan said the GSLV developed an error shortly after takeoff, and then lost command, resulting in a higher angle in the flight.

“That caused a higher stress, breaking up the vehicle,” he said.

The GSLV exploded “at an altitude of 4.9 miles (8 km) and the debris have fallen in deep sea,” Radhakrishnan said.

“Data indicates commands from onboard computers ceased to reach circuits of the first stage (engines) but what caused the interruption needs to be studied and we hope to get an assessment of what triggered this,” he added.

The incident represents the second launch failure this year for India’s space agency.

A similar developmental rocket plummeted into the Bay of Bengal in April after the rocket’s rotor seized and its turbine casing ruptured, likely due to excessive pressure and thermal stresses, the ISRO said.  

Three months later, an Indian rocket successfully placed five satellites into orbit.

India began its space program in 1963, and has since developed its own satellites and launch vehicles to reduce its dependence on other nations. 

The nation made its initial claim for a share of the multi-billion-dollar global commercial launch market in 2007, when it sent an Italian satellite into orbit.  It also launched an Israeli spy satellite into orbit in January 2008.  The country is working towards launching its first manned lunar mission in 2016, and has so far acquired roughly $2.8 billion for the project.

Despite India’s success in launching an unmanned satellite in 2008, and putting a probe on the lunar surface, the nation still has a way to go to catch up with the United States, China, Russia and the European Space Agency, which are already firmly established in the commercial space market.

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