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ISRO in tumult: lost contact with the GSAT-6A

Context:

  • Within less than 48 hours, ISRO has lost contact with the GSAT-6A communication satellite.

Background:

  • Launched on: 29th March, 2018
  • The first orbit-raising operation of the satellite was successfully carried out by firing the satellite’s LAM (liquid apogee motor) engine: 30th March, 2018
  • Note:  This put the satellite in an oval orbit around the earth.
  • second orbit raising manoeuvre was successfully carried out: 1st April, 2018
  • 4 minutes after the orbit-raising operation, the satellite stopped sending data.
  • A third orbit raising exercise was due on 1st April, 2018.
  • Note: In 2017, PSLV- C39 mission, carrying the IRNSS-1H navigation satellite also failed after the heat shield refused to open and release the satellite.

GSAT-6A:

  • GSAT-6Ais a communications satellite.
  • It is under the operation of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • It features a 6-metre (20 ft) unfurlable S-band antenna similar to the one used on GSAT-6.
  • It has both civilian and defence applications. 
  • It will also provide a platform for developing technologies such as:
  • demonstration of 6-metre S-Band unfurlable antenna,
  • hand-held ground terminals and
  • network management techniques that could be useful in satellite-based mobile communication applications.

Know more about GSAT

Reasons behind GSAT-6A’s loss of contact with ground station:

  • Scientists suspect an on-board power system malfunction.
  • When that happens, it automatically goes into safe mode and there is loss of the link.

Limitations of ISRO’s satellite launches:

  • There’s a lack of launch and satellite infrastructure.
  • Note: It can launch only smaller satellites of around 1000kg or less and place them in near-earth orbits coming down to only around 800km above the earth.
  • There is a shortage of Indian transponders.
  • There are challenges for India’s communications and security needs.
  • It has fallen back on repetitive launches of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
  • Absence of the GSLV means that India is spending extra money and it is losing valuable opportunities for communications satellite launches.
  • Although, PSLV is commercial value but limitations on payload mass and orbital altitude brings limited returns.

ISRO’s major failures so far:

  • 10th August, 1979: The first SLV3-E1 crashed into sea because of a defective valve.
  • 31st May, 1981: SLV3-D1 was a placed satellite into a wrong orbit.
  • 24th March, 1987: First flight of ASLV-D1 didn’t succeed because of the failure in the ignition of first stage.
  • 13th July, 1988: ASLV-D2, successor to ASLV-D1, too failed because of inadequate control.
  • 20th September, 1993: PSLV-D1, the very first in the PSLV series, failed when the rocket was unable to ignite after the second stage separated.
  • 18th April, 2001: GSLV Mk-I-D1, the first developmental flight of GSLV, failed to deploy its payload into the right orbit.
  • 10th July, 2006: GSLV Mk-I-F02 was destroyed because its trajectory went outside expected limits.
  • 15th April, 2010: The cryogenic upper stage of GSLV Mk-II-D3 failed after a fuel booster turbo pump packed up.
  • 25th December, 2010: GSLV Mk-I-F06 was destroyed after control was lost over liquid fuel boosters.
  • 8th August, 2017: The PSLV-C39 failed to launch the IRNSS-1H satellite because the heat shield didn’t open.

Conclusion:

  • With additional resources and manpower, ISRO can accomplish much higher success-notches.
  • Also, ISRO has been known for its frugal innovation, so these kinds of satellite glitches should be taken as lessons-to-be-learnt for future projects.
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