Chandrayaan-1 - A great leap forward

The successful launch and lunar operations of the first Indian unmanned moon spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 is a remarkable milestone of Indian science. It was the 68th of the lunar missions that began with the Soviet Luna 1 launch on 02 January 1959. The total cost of the mission is approximately $83 million. On landing an impact probe on the moon surface from a lunar orbiting spacecraft India joins the elite club of space fairing nations that include USA, Russia, European Space Agency (ESA), China and Japan. Over the years and especially in the last decade, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has continued to develop a broad-based indigenous launch vehicles, satellites, control facilities and data processing centers. In realizing its dream, India has demonstrated its capability to design, integrate, launch, and operate complex space and ground systems/sub-systems. ISRO is already moving ahead on its joint Chandrayaan-2 Robotic Lunar Lander mission with Russia. It is also laying plans for a new $122 million launch complex and astronaut training facility pending the expected government approval for a two seat manned Earth orbiter. ISRO has recently (Jan 2007) conducted an unmanned Space Capsule Recovery Experiment to prepare/test for future manned flights. By far the most ambitious space program is the dual use AVATAR a reusable hypersonic launch vehicle (SSTO/TSTO) capable of carrying a 1000kg payload being developed by Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). India has been working on air breathing engines (ramjet/scramjet) for a technology demonstrator flight in near future.


In 1975, ISRO launched its first satellite, ‘Aryabhata’, on a Soviet Cosmos-3M rocket, and in 1980, India's first home-built launcher, the SLV-3, successfully put a satellite into orbit. Since 1980 India has used both, its indigenous launch capabilities, and commercial launch vehicles (mostly from Soviet Union) to launch a series of Remote Sensing (IRS, CARTOSAT) and Communication Satellites (INSAT). India’s attempts to launch its own Geosynchronous Satellite have been less than stellar. After several failed attempts the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) was finally able to launch the INSAT-4CR in the geosynchronous orbit. GSLV uses a Russian cryogenic upper stage, which India had serious difficulty in developing. Under a Russia-India joint venture, India will launch two GLONASS-M satellites on its GSLV platforms and share costs of developing the K-series satellites. India has also been granted access to the military band of GLOSNASS signal. Although ISRO does not have a mandate to build military satellites, the TES & CARTOSAT satellites deliver military quality 1-meter imagery effectively. According to reports CARTOSAT-2A is equipped with an Israeli made advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR). The hallmark of India-Israel space collaboration was the launch of Iran specific TECSAR/Polaris spy satellite by the Indian PSLV launch vehicle. Weighing less than 300 kilograms, the TECSAR employs synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology and provides day and night image resolution of up to 10 centimeters, even in cloudy weather.


The Chandrayaan-1 is a two year mission aimed at high-resolution remote sensing of the moon in visible, near infrared (NIR), low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions. The objective is to prepare a three-dimensional atlas (with high spatial and altitude resolution of 5-10 m) of both near and far side of the moon. In addition, it will conduct chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface for distribution of mineral and chemical elements including high atomic number elements such as Radon, Uranium and Thorium with high spatial resolution.

The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft bus is 1.5 meters cube, 3-axis stabilized, with two star trackers, gyros and four reaction wheels. The total mass at launch was 1380 kg and a dry mass of 675 kg at lunar orbit. A bipropellant (MMH/MON-3) propulsion system is used to transfer Chandrayaan-1 into lunar orbit and maintain attitude. The spacecraft design is based on ISRO’s Kalpansat meteorological satellite that was launched in 2002. The 750 Watt solar panel together with a Lithium-Ion battery is used to supply power to the spacecraft. The spacecraft uses the X-band transmission for payload data and a separate S-band link for Telemetry Tracking and Command. Three solid state recorders are used to store payload data. Chandrayaan-1 at the satellite processing center is shown below.

Chandrayaan-1 payload comprises of five instruments from India, three from ESA two from NASA and one from Bulgaria. The NASA instruments are: (a) Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR) build by Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University and (b) Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) payload is from Brown University and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The details of these scientific payloads are available at As the spacecraft faces the sun, these instruments are being switched on/off to maintain the temperature of the spacecraft. The spacecraft’s only launch-able payload; a 30 kg lunar impact probe was released on Nov 14 as a prelude for future hard and soft landing. The frequency range coverage provided by the on board instruments are shown below.

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, Sriharikota by PSLV-XL (PSLV-C11) on 22 October 2008 in an highly elliptical orbit with perigee (nearest point to the Earth) of 255 km and an apogee (farthest point from the Earth) of 22,860 km, inclined at an angle of 17.9 deg to the equator. In this initial orbit, Chandrayaan-1 orbited the Earth once in about six and a half hours. Subsequently multiple (five) Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) firings at the perigee were used to raise the orbit to the Lunar Transfer Trajectory of 380,000 km in deep space.
To insert the spacecraft in the lunar orbit the liquid engine was fired to reduce its velocity sufficiently which enabled the lunar gravity to capture the spacecraft. As a result, the spacecraft was in an elliptical lunar orbit with periselene (nearest point to the moon) of 504 km and aposelene (farthest point from the moon) of 7,502 km. A series of three orbit reduction maneuvers were successfully carried out to reduce the spacecraft’s orbit to its intended operational circular polar orbit of 100 km.

One of the key elements of the Indian Space Program is the 140 ft Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) build by Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The launch vehicle program goes back to Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s visit to NASA's Langley Research Center, where the United States Scout rocket was developed, and the Wallops Island Flight Center, where the Scout was flown. Kalam then proceeded to build India's first big rocket and domestic satellite launch vehicle, the SLV-3, which is believed to be a virtual replica of the Scout rocket based on the blueprints Kalam saw while in the U.S. and design information that NASA subsequently shared at India's request. The first stage of the SLV-3, first launched in 1979, was then used as the first stage of the Agni missile, India's largest nuclear-capable missile, for which Kalam was the chief designer. The liquid fluid propulsion technology came from France’s Viking rocket motor used in the ESA Ariane satellite launcher.
The lessons learned during the development of earlier launch vehicles i.e. SLV and ASLV have contributed heavily in development of PSLV. Plagued with initial failures, the PSLV was finally successful in launching its first Indian made Remote Sensing Spacecraft in 1996. Since then the PSLV has been successful in launching twenty nine spacecrafts in its thirteen launches for various Low Earth Observation (LEO) and experimental missions.
The PSLV was developed to launch 1000 kg class payload in the Sun Synchronous (99 deg inclination) and other low earth orbits. The four stage vehicle core employs solid (1 & 3) and liquid (2 & 4) propulsion stages alternatively, a rather unusual design, with six strap-on booster. The large solid first stage develops approximately 4,800 kN of thrust. The payload capacity of the PSLV (C11) was increased (for the 1.4 ton Chandrayaan-1) by adding larger solid rocket boosters capable of carrying 12 tons of solid propellant.

The ground communication infrastructure namely the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) was built at Byalalu, Bangalore mainly to support interplanetary space missions (100,000 km beyond earth) like Chandrayaan-1. The low earth orbit Indian satellites are controlled by the S-band ISTRAC network stations. The IDSN has the responsibility of receiving the Chandrayaan-1 health and payload data in real time during two years of operation. The network consists of an 18-m and 32-m antennae, with multiple carrier X-band and S-band uplink/downlink capabilities with fiber link to mission operation complex. As a preparation for Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission, IDSN was set up to transmit and receive signals from the Japanese lunar mission Selene (Koguya) and an ESA space probe called Rosetta. For extended visibility and early launch operations the IDSN was augmented by NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Applied Physics Lab (APL) and Bearslake, Russia tracking stations. Spacecraft twenty-four command and control is provided by the Mission Operations Complex and the Indian Space Science Data Center, provides payload data processing.


The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was established in 1969 under the Department of Space with headquarters at Bangalore, it employs a workforce of approximate 20,000. The ISRO Satellite Center (ISAC) in Bangalore is responsible for the design, development, assembly, and testing of satellites. The Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) develops rocketry and launch vehicle technologies. The spacecraft mission operations are being carried out from the Satellite Control Centre (SCC) of ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Bangalore. The development of the sensors and payloads is the responsibility of ISRO's Satellite Application Center (SAC) in Ahmadabad. All Indian space launches are conducted from the Sriharikota High Altitude Range (SHAR) on Sritharikota Island off the east coast of India in the Bay of Bengal.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on August 29, 2009 at 7:22am
Here's a BBC report on the Indian moon mission:

All communication links with the only Indian satellite orbiting the Moon have been lost, India's space agency says.

Radio contact with the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was lost abruptly early on Saturday, said India's Bangalore-based Space Research Organization (Isro).

The unmanned craft was launched last October in what was billed as a two-year mission of exploration.

The launch was regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia.

Following its launch from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, it was hoped the robotic probe would orbit the Moon, compile a 3-D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.
Comment by Ameer Alam on September 4, 2009 at 11:24am
India's lunar honeymoon is over.
The Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) terminated the Chandrayaan-1 mission 18 hours after losing contact with the spacecraft on Aug 29, 09. The spacecraft completed less than half (10 months) of its two year mission life.
The initial inkling of something amiss came of May 19, 09 when the satellite was suddenly raised from a lunar orbit of 100 km to 200 km orbit. ISRO did not disclose the nature of the problems at that time, instead it claimed that "the higher altitude would enable further studies on gravity anomalies and imaging a wider swath of lunar surface". Later it was revealed that both the primary and secondary star trackers (sensor units), had failed on orbit. Star tracker is a part of the spacecraft attitude control system, which accurately orients the spacecraft and helps keep the cameras and other instruments properly aimed at the lunar surface. The ISRO controllers then switched to a less accurate option of a combination of gyroscopes, antenna-pointing data and lunar landmarks to determine spacecraft orientation.
To make matters worse the Chandrayaan-1 had earlier lost power supply to the satellite primary bus management unit due to overheating. The bus management unit is an on-board computer that performs real-time data, navigation and control processing for the satellite. After the secondary unit lost power the ground controllers stopped receiving telemetry data, radio contact was lost and the mission was abandoned.

Earlier on Aug 20, NASA and ISRO performed joint observations with their lunar orbiters to determine evidence of water/ice at the moon’s North Pole Erlanger Crater, using the US built Mini-SAR/Mini-RF devices. The hope was that bistatic imaging data will reveal whether the radars were actually seeing ice or just surface material with same characteristics. Later on Sep 3, 09 it was announced that the experiment failed because of the pointing problems (gyro drift of 0.8 deg/hr) with Indian spacecraft. Ground controllers managed to get data back from both spacecraft, but it turned out to be unusable. Further experiments were cancelled due to the loss of Indian spacecraft.

These failures are indicative of a lack of understanding of space environment; as a result erroneous thermal profiling caused cascading failures of the spacecraft equipment. Compared to Chandrayaan-1 the Chinese Chang’e-1 and the Japanese Selene lunar missions have performed beyond their expected mission life. The Chinese indigenous space programs continue to thrive despite the technological restrictions imposed by the West.

Nevertheless, Chandrayaan-1 completed 312 days in lunar orbit, circling the moon more than 3,400 times and providing a large volume of data from its suite of sensors which included the Terrain Mapping Camera, Hyper Spectral Imager and Moon Mineralogy Mapper. High-resolution cameras relayed over 70,000 digital images of the lunar surface, providing breathtaking views of mountains and craters, including those in the permanently shadowed area of the moon's polar region. The ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair declared that the mission was a success with 95% of the objectives achieved.

Ameer Alam
Boeing Co.
Comment by Riaz Haq on September 9, 2009 at 11:08am
Here's a Russian report about Chanrayaan-1 suffering a "heat stroke" in space:

NEW DELHI, September 7 (RIA Novosti) - India's first lunar mission may have failed as a result of overheating, a national daily reported on Monday.

Chandrayaan-1 was launched in October 2008 and its main mission was conducting geological mapping of the Moon's surface aimed at producing a complete map of the chemical characteristics and 3-D topography. Chandrayaan means Moon Craft in Sanskrit.

According to The Times of India, Chandrayaan's orbit around the Moon was raised up to 200km (124 miles) from 100km (62 miles) earlier in May this year because of a blunder in calculating the Moon's temperature that led to a faulty thermal protection.

The paper quoted Dr. T. K. Alex, director of the satellite center at the Indian Space Research Organization, as saying that it had been assumed the temperature at 100km above the Moon's surface would be around 75 degrees Celsius (167 Fahrenheit). "However, it was more than 75 degrees and problems started to surface. We had to raise the orbit to 200km."

The paper said heating problems on the craft had begun last November, forcing some of the payloads to deactivate.

In early 2009, the orbiter's two star sensors started malfunctioning and then failed because of high temperatures. The sensors are crucial in determining the orientation of the craft in space.

The project was terminated on August 30, when communication with the spacecraft suddenly failed, although 95% of the scientific aims had been accomplished, according to space officials.

Despite the failure, Chandrayaan-1 managed to transmit excellent images including that of the solar eclipse on July 22.
Comment by Riaz Haq on June 7, 2012 at 8:03pm

Here's a China Daily story on China-Pak space cooperation:

China and Pakistan on Thursday outlined their space cooperation plan for the next eight years, which will be an important area for the two neighbors to boost bilateral cooperation as "all-weather friends".

President Hu Jintao and his visiting Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari also agreed to deepen cooperation in areas including security, the economy and trade, investment, transportation infrastructure and energy.

Zardari arrived in Beijing earlier this week for the visit and attended the 12th Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit on Wednesday and Thursday. Pakistan is an observer state of the organization, which groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

After their talks on Thursday afternoon, Hu and Zardari witnessed the signing of a 2012-20 space cooperation outline between the China National Space Administration and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission.

Hu said he hopes the two countries expand their pragmatic cooperation, especially in the sectors of trade, energy, transportation infrastructure construction, agriculture, telecommunications, aerospace and technology.

Analysts said China-Pakistan space cooperation is timely and mutually beneficial, and adds a new dimension to their already robust relationship.

"China is looking for a market for its growing space expertise. And Pakistan needs assistance with soft loans, training of its scientists and know-how in space sciences," Ghulam Ali, of the Institute of International Relations of National Chengchi University in Taipei, wrote in an article published on the website of East Asia Forum.

"This cooperation adds a new dimension to their already robust relationship. It brings Pakistan closer to China than ever before."

On Aug 11, China successfully launched Pakistan's communication satellite, Paksat-1R, into space from its Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.

"China will continue to provide assistance for Pakistan's economic and social development within our capacity," Hu said.

Hu said China encourages and supports its companies to participate in Pakistan's energy and power projects.

He also suggested the two countries enhance law enforcement and security cooperation and jointly combat the "three evil forces" of terrorism, extremism and separatism.

Hailing Sino-Pakistani ties as an "all-weather friendly cooperative relationship", Zardari thanked China for its support of Pakistan's domestic stability, development and assistance to the country after natural disasters.

Zardari said he welcomes Chinese enterprises to expand investments in Pakistan, especially in infrastructure construction and the energy sector, so as to safeguard Pakistan's economic development and improve people's living standards.

"Pakistan will continue to support China on issues concerning China's core interests and be tough on terrorism", Zardari said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 4, 2013 at 8:08pm

Here are excerpts of a BBC story on India's ambitious Mars Mission:

After India's successful unmanned Chandrayaan mission to the Moon in 2008 that brought back the first clinching evidence of the presence of water there, the Mars mission, according to K Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), is a "natural progression".
India sees the Mars mission as an opportunity to beat its regional rival China in reaching the planet, especially after a Russian mission carrying the first Chinese satellite to Mars failed in November 2011. Japan also failed in a similar effort in 1998.

China has beaten India in space in almost every aspect so far: it has rockets that can lift four times more weight than India's, and in 2003, successfully launched its first human space flight which India has not yet embarked on. China launched its maiden mission to Moon in 2007, ahead of India.

So if India's mission succeeds, it will have something to feel proud about.
Though India says its Mars mission is the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to have been undertaken in half a century of space exploration, some are questioning its scientific purpose.

"This is a highly suboptimal mission with limited scientific objectives," says D Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum, a think tank.

Others like economist-activist Jean Dreze have said the mission "seems to be part of the Indian elite's delusional quest for superpower status".

Refuting such talk, a top government official says: "We have heard these arguments since the 1960s, about India being a poor country not needing or affording a space programme.

"If we can't dare to dream big it would leave us as hewers of wood and drawers of water! India is today too big to be just living on the fringes of high technology."

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 4, 2013 at 10:55pm

As India launches its space mission to Mars, malnutrition rates in India are higher than in sub Saharan Africa.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 11, 2013 at 11:05pm

#IndiaMarsMission hit by snag. Independent experts puzzled by the stated circumstances of glitch. #India #ISRO

India's Mars spacecraft suffered a brief engine failure on Monday as scientists tried to move it into a higher orbit around Earth.

During a fourth repositioning to take it 100,000 kms from Earth, the thruster engines briefly failed, leading the auto-pilot to take over but controllers denied any setback to the ambitious low-cost mission.

Lacking a large enough rocket to blast directly out of Earth's atmosphere and gravitational pull, the Indian spacecraft is orbiting Earth until the end of the month while building up enough velocity to break free.

The Mars Orbiter Mission, which blasted off on November 5 for an 11-month trip in an attempt to become the only Asian country to reach the Red Planet, is being launched on its way via an unusual "slingshot" method for interplanetary journeys.

"It's not a setback at all," Deviprasad Karnik, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told AFP.

The spacecraft is currently at an orbit of 78,276 kilometres and will be raised again at 5am on Tuesday (23:30 GMT), an ISRO statement said.

"Tomorrow again we'll raise the orbit to 100,000 kms," Karnik said.

ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan has called the mission a "turning point" for India's space ambitions and one which would go on to prove its capabilities in rocket technology.

The $73m cost of the project is less than a sixth of the $455m set aside for a Mars probe by NASA which will launch later this month.

India has never attempted interplanetary trave beforel and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure in the past, including China's in 2011 and Japan's in 2003.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 8, 2016 at 8:56pm

#India's #Mars Orbiter Mission Has a Methane Problem via @seeker

More than two years after its pioneering Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) reached the red planet, the Indian Space Research Organization has yet to release highly anticipated measurements of atmospheric methane, a gas which on Earth is strongly tied to life.

Seeker has learned that the data will never come, due to a flaw in the sensor design.

"They did not design this properly for the detection of methane on Mars," Michael Mumma, senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Seeker.

In 2003, Mumma led a team that made the first definitive measurements of methane on Mars using an infrared telescope in Hawaii. The methane, which appeared in plumes over specific regions of Mars, reached a maximum density of about 60 parts per billion.

"The (MOM) instrument is beautifully engineered, but not for the methane task. It has other value, but unfortunately they will not be able to provide measurements of methane at the levels needed to sample even the plumes we saw," Mumma said.

The problem has to do with how the instrument collects and processes detections of methane in the atmosphere, a technique known as spectroscopy.

"Imagine that you hold your hand in front of you and extend your four fingers … Suppose that each (finger) represents a methane line. What they have is a spectrometer that can be shifted to … sample each one of the four fingers and then they have a second one that samples the region between the fingers.

"The trouble is they don't actually send back the spectra. What they send back is the two numbers — the sum of the fingers measured by the first channel and the sum of gaps measured by the second channel — and then they take a difference of those two numbers and they think that that's going to be the methane signal," Mumma said.

"The problem, of course, is that when you have other spectral lines … like carbon dioxide lines which vary widely with temperature in terms of their intensity, then those two numbers … don't represent methane alone. The net effect is that there is no way that one can back out those two signals in order to retrieve a methane signal," he said.

"It's really unfortunate because they succeeded so spectacularly well in placing the spacecraft into orbit at all, which was the major achievement for the first try," he added. "But the reality is we won't seeing any detections of methane from the Mars methane sensor on MOM."

Mumma and colleague Geronimo Villanueva, also at Goddard, analyzed the MOM methane instrument design as part of NASA's widening partnership with ISRO.

Their findings were presented to the Indian space agency ISRO in February.

"I believe the resolution is that the Indians now agree that their methane sensor is better used for other purposes, so they are now calling this an albedo mapper and measuring reflected sunlight. It does that, and it does that well," Mumma said.

"The engineers know how to build a good instrument. That's not the issue. The problem is they didn't have the scientific guidance needed to tell them exactly what they needed to do," he said.

Seetha Somasundaram, with ISRO's Satellite Center which designed the instrument, declined to comment and referred Seeker to ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik. Karnik did not responded to requests for comment.

Mumma and other scientists are now pinning their hopes on getting Mars methane measurements from Europe's newly arrived Trace Gas Orbiter.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 6, 2017 at 1:59pm

Jubilation and scepticism greet #India’s world #space record. #ISRO … via @FT

the fanfare masks a more modest reality — India has made a small inroad into the lucrative commercial space industry but headline-grabbing advances such as last month’s rocket launch have been far outstripped by China’s investments into a manned space station and robotic missions to the moon.

“The Chinese space programme operates on a very different scale than the Indian,” says Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham university. “It is much bigger, both in terms of annual launches and annual investments, it does a lot more in terms of actual capabilities and it also has a much more explicit military dimension.”

The new Indian record, which tripled Russia’s previous record of 37 satellites from a single rocket, was only possible because most of the spacecraft were extremely small, he added. India’s space agency received about $1.1bn of funding last year compared with an estimated $7-8bn in China, says Dinshaw Mistry, professor of political science and Asian studies at the University of Cincinnati. 

In Beijing, India’s enthusiasm for its world record has been dismissed as overblown.

“China’s opponents in aerospace is not India but the United States. However, India always makes China its opponent, and every achievement is made into a victory against China and cheered,” ran an editorial in the Global Times, a state-sanctioned tabloid.

“The requirements for Indian rockets are all low cost, so they have a large emphasis on commercial launches, and they are mostly servicing foreign satellites. That is all they are doing,” says Lan Tianyi, chief executive of the Beijing-based aerospace consultancy Yuxun Technology. Most of the technology needed to pack 104 satellites onto one rocket came from foreign companies while “India only provided the rocket and the launch opportunity”, Mr Lan added.

While China has sought to emulate American space achievements and poured resources into high-profile missions like sending a rover to the moon, India has set more conservative targets.

According to Mr Lele, less than 5 per cent of India’s space budget is spent on long-term exploration or international competition. Instead, most is focussed on domestic missions such as environmental and metereological forecasting, or navigation.

India has a 0.6 per cent share of the commercial space industry — compared to China’s 3 per cent — a big growth area for companies that want to send satellites to space for research of commercial purposes, such as mapping or television transmission. The US is the biggest client for the $5.4bn industry, according to data from the Satellite Industry Association, a trade body. 

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 8, 2022 at 6:58pm

First flight of #India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (#SSLV) ends in failure. SSLV is India’s answer to the burgeoning small #satellite launch market, standing at 111-feet tall and capable of lifting up to 500 kilograms to low Earth orbit. #ISRO #space

The maiden flight of India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) ended in failure when the rocket failed to insert its payloads into the target orbit.

India Space Research Organization (ISRO), the country’s space agency, confirmed on Twitter that the satellites “are no longer usable” after the rocket’s kick stage placed the satellites into an elliptical, rather than circular, orbit.

The vehicle took off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sunday. In a video statement, ISRO’s Chairman Shri Somanath confirmed all three rocket stages performed nominally. The rocket also has a terminal stage, the velocity trimming module, which was tasked with deploying the payload. The satellites separated from this final stage at around 356 kilometers, which is when ISRO noticed the anomaly, Somanath said.

“We found that this issue related to the SSLV has been reasonably identified, but we will go deeper into it,” he said, calling the issue “failure of a logic to identify a sensor failure.” Because the satellites were injected into an elliptical orbit, rather than a circular one, they were essentially pulled back down into Earth’s atmosphere at the orbit’s lowest point.

“But for that problem, we couldn’t see any other anomaly […] Every other new element that has been incorporated in this rocket has performed very well,” he added. He said a committee has been assembled to investigate the anomaly and provide a set of recommendations for implementation before SSLV’s second developmental flight.

SSLV is India’s answer to the burgeoning small satellite launch market, standing at 111-feet tall and capable of lifting up to 500 kilograms to low Earth orbit. It is designed, according to ISRO, as a “launch-on-demand” solution. The vehicle was carrying two payloads: an Earth observation satellite designed by ISRO called Eos-02, and an 8U CubeSat carrying 75 payloads built by students from rural India.

India has a long history of developing its own launch vehicles, starting with Satellite Launch Vehicle which had its first successful mission in 1980. SSLV is India’s answer to the burgeoning small satellite launch market, and it joins three other operational rockets as part of the country’s fleet.


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