India’s Rocket Launch Ends In Catastrophic Failure

The ISRO's satellite mission was downed shortly after launch by a technical glitch.
Chris Young
The GSLV rocket prior to launch.ISRO

India's first launch of 2021 ended in failure due to a technical glitch shortly after launch that resulted in the loss of the Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO's) Earth observation satellite payload, a report from explains.

Roughly six minutes after the launch, which took place at 5:43 am local time (8:13 pm EDT) on Thursday, August 13, from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island, a failure prevented the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle's (GSLV) cryogenic third stage from igniting.

Technical anomaly causes loss of Earth observation satellite

According to a tweet from ISRO, "performance of first and second stages was normal. However, Cryogenic Upper Stage ignition did not happen due to technical anomaly. The mission couldn't be accomplished as intended."

Prior to the August 13 launch failure, the ISRO had a run of 14 successful launches. The last failure for the Indian space organization came in 2017 when a smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carrying a satellite for the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System failed to reach orbit. According to SpaceNews, the 2017 launch failure was the first in 20 years for India's PSLV rockets.

The failed launch comes as a blow to India at a time in which it is facing an uptick in natural disasters. Lost with the GSLV rocket was the EOS-03 Earth observation satellite, which was designed to track weather conditions, natural disasters, and collect forestry and agricultural data all in real-time.

India aims for human spaceflight

The failure is also worrying as it may delay the ISRO's plans to take humans into space. Following SpaceX's recent success in bringing human spaceflight back to U.S. soil, and Blue Origin's and Virgin Galactic's recent crewed space tourism test flights, India hopes that ISRO can join the growing ranks of firms capable of human spaceflight. According to The Times of India, India's human spaceflight program, called Gaganyaan, aimed to conduct its first unmanned mission in December this year, with a view to eventually sending humans to low earth orbit following more unmanned test flights between 2022-23. In July, the ISRO successfully conducted a long-duration hot test of its liquid propellant Vikas Engine, which will be used on its human-rated GSLV MkIII vehicle for the Gaganuaan program.

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The ISRO has a backlog of launches that were delayed due to the pandemic, and four launches that were slated for this year — including the Gaganyaan test flight — are likely on hold now as the organization investigates the exact cause of the anomaly that led to the failure of its latest mission. Watch a stream of the August 13 GSLV launch in the video below.