In a double whammy to the Indian space programme, the PSLV-C39 mission carrying the replacement navigation satellite IRNSS-1H failed on Thursday evening.
This was the PSLV’s first failure — in what was seen as a routine mission — after 39 continuously successful launches and only the second such instance since 1993. “The mission was unsuccessful,” said A.S. Kiran Kumar, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, a few minutes after the 7 p.m. launch. He said the spacecraft was stuck in the heat shield in the last and fourth stage; it did not release into space as planned.
A PSLV flight lasts 19 minutes. Normally the heat shield separates three minutes into launch but ISRO officials apparently waited through the entire flight period before conceding the failure.
“We could see the satellite circling along the orbit with the heat shield,” Mr. Kiran Kumar said at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, from where ISRO launches Indian and foreign commercial satellites.
The failure may somewhat dent the image that the PSLV commands in the global small-to-medium launchers market. It has been easily the most-sought-after vehicle for small satellites of up to 600-700 kg. It has launched 209 satellites of 28 countries since it went commercial in 1999. Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s commercial arm, has firmed up many more client satellites and is in discussion with new potential customers, its chief had earlier said.