After weeks of anticipation, it was disappointment at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota as the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan 2 was called off with less than an hour to go for the launch. The countdown clock stopped at –56.24 minutes, while the screens at the Media Centre went blank as soon as it was confirmed that India’s most complex mission had been aborted.
“A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at 1 hour before the launch. As a measure of abundant precaution, #Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later,” announced ISRO early on Monday morning.
An ISRO official told IANS, "The technical snag was noticed. We first have to approach the vehicle to assess the problem. First we have to empty the fuel loaded in the rocket, then the rocket will be taken back for further investigation.”
"This process will take 10 days after that only we can decide on the launch schedule," he added.
Soon after the announcement, questions were raised over the launch vehicle – the Geo-stationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), a previous version of which was dubbed the ‘Naughty Boy’ for witnessing a series of failures in the past, with many rockets even landing in the sea. Experts, however, pointed out that it was imperative to abort the mission once the snag was noticed, given the complexities of Chandrayaan-2, the risks involved, and the cost.
Calling it a right decision to call off the launch, former head of the Directorate of Public Interface at DRDO, Ravi Gupta told ANI, “We could not have taken any chance in such a big mission. Several rounds of testing are performed of every part. Every movement needs to be monitored at every second.”
Speaking to ANI, G Balachandran, Former Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses said, “It's normal. If there are anomalies, you just can’t send it off. Mission cost is over Rs 1,000 crore. It may be a simple thing or complex thing, they'll analyse it.”
At Rs 978 crore, India’s lunar mission is considered more cost efficient than similar projects by other countries. Chandrayaan-2 has been in the works since 2008, and an unsuccessful mission due to a technical snag would have put paid to the energies of scores of scientists who have been working on it.
Chandrayaan-2 will make India the fourth country to soft-land on the moon after the erstwhile Soviet Union, the US, and China. In April this year, Israel had attempted to soft-land on the moon, however, the privately-funded mission had crashed just moments before it was supposed to land.
Chandrayaan-2 will also make India the first country to land on the dark side of the moon – the lunar south pole – where no country has gone before.
The Chandrayaan-2 consists of three segments – the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), the lander Vikram (1,471 kg, four payloads), and the rover Pragyan (27 kg, two payloads). The GSLV-Mk III with a capacity to carry four ton satellite, is a three stage/engine rocket with two strap-on motors powered by solid fuel. The second stage is a core liquid fuel booster and the third is the cryogenic engine.
To date ISRO has sent up three GSLV-Mk III rockets. The first one was on December 18, 2015, carrying Crew Module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment (3.7 ton). The mission was also to test the rocket's inflight structural stability.
The second and third GSLV-Mk III's went up on June 5, 2017 and November 14, 2018, carrying communication satellites GSAT-19 (3.1 ton) and GSAT-29 (3.4 ton) respectively.
Interestingly, GSLV-Mk III will be used for India's manned space mission slated for 2022.
India presently has two fully operational rockets – the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and GSLV-Mk II – with a lift-off mass of 415 ton and a carrying capacity of 2.5 tonnes.
At a press conference in June, ISRO Chairman K Sivan had noted the highly challenging task of soft landing, calling the fifteen minutes when the lander descends on the moon’s surface as “the most terrifying moments not only for all the people in ISRO but for all Indians.”
(With IANS inputs)