WHAT EXACTLY led to the failure of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle mission on July 10? A team of oceanographers and professional divers — assisted by a robot — are searching for clues in the Bay of Bengal to help space scientists answer that.
The 414-tonne GSLV-FO2 (with a piggyback load of the INSAT 4C communication satellite) had veered 10 degrees off course and had to be exploded 15 km above the sea seconds after its launch. The blame was put on one of its strap-on engines that failed. Nobody knows why it failed.
Space scientists were asked to probe into it and a hastily formed team was instructed by the ISRO to scout for the remains of the engines and strap-on motors so that they can be examined.
The under-sea operation off the Sriharikota coast near Chennai, which started four days ago, reported its first find on Saturday. Experts on board the ocean research vessel Sagar Kanya sent word to Delhi that they had located and hauled one of the four strap-on engines.
P.S. Goel, secretary, Department of Ocean Development, Delhi, told HT: “One of the four strap-on engines has been recovered. But it may not be the one that failed.” He said the search was a “major, first-of-its-kind effort”.
“The debris is in an area about 200 metres by 200 metres,” said T.V. Bhaskara Rao, director (logistics), National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), Goa. “It’s a marathon task for the divers.”
Every piece of computerised data or debris will be vital for space scientists not just to understand the failure of GSLV-FO2 but also to perfect India’s future satellite launches, the unmanned Chandrayaan-1 moon mission, and ambitious plans for inter-planetary explorations.
NCAOR has deployed Sagar Kanya with equipment that emits sound waves that can map the ocean floor. It also has winches, or drums with steel ropes lowered for divers to hook and lift debris.
Goel said divers hired for the job were exploring 15 metres undersea and six to seven km from the coast off the spaceport of Sriharikota. About 10-15 potential locations of the debris have been surveyed for diving operations. Once a part is located, divers can also strap inflatable air bags and float it to the surface.
“A remotely-operable vehicle with built-in video cameras is also being used,” said S. Kathiroli, director, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) Chennai.
NIOT has deployed coastal vessels Sagar Purvi and Paschimi for the job. Russian vessel Akademik Boris Petrov, hired for India’s Antarctica expedition, is also on call.