The first flight of India’s small satellite vehicle results in loss of payload

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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