THE GSAT-6A MISHAP

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Amar­nath K. Menon

The fail­ure to nudge the mil­i­tary grade com­mu­ni­ca­tions geosyn­chronous satel­lite GSAT-6A into the in­tended or­bit on April 1 is a sig­nif­i­cant set­back for the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO). While the Geosyn­chronous Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle Mark II (GSLV Mk-II) launcher did ferry the 2,100 kg satel­lite—built at a cost of Rs 270 crore—into space, the planned trans­fer into the des­ig­nated geosyn­chronous or­bit did not hap­pen. The on­board mo­tors failed af­ter it had nudged the space­craft twice to stay on course, sug­gest­ing that a power fail­ure snapped the com­mu­ni­ca­tions link be­fore the fi­nal nudge to place it in the spec­i­fied perch of 35,800 km over the Equa­tor.

Fail­ure analysis teams will as­sess what trig­gered the ‘black­out’. Pre­lim­i­nary analysis sug­gested all was well with GSAT-6A’s sys­tems and it went into safe mode due to an ‘ex­ter­nal dis­tur­bance’. ISRO is ex­am­in­ing why the power sys­tem mal­func­tioned, in­clud­ing the ef­fect of a so­lar storm and the new lithium ion cells used in the satel­lite. ISRO ground con­trollers say they have a mech­a­nism to re-es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tion links and will make more at­tempts be­fore for­mally declar­ing the launch a ‘fail­ure’. A team led by ISRO Satel­lite Cen­tre ex-di­rec­tor P.S. Goel will look into the anom­aly.

The loss of GSAT-6A, with a planned life of 10 years, is sig­nif­i­cant as it be­longed to the high power S-band com­mu­ni­ca­tions satel­lite genre. The high power, fa­cil­i­tated by a three times larger an­tenna, would have al­lowed sig­nals to be re­ceived on the ground through even hand­held de­vices. The De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) has been work­ing on sup­ply­ing se­cu­rity forces in re­mote ar­eas with such de­vices. GSAT-6A was to com­ple­ment GSAT-6, which has been pro­vid­ing ser­vices since its launch in 2015. ISRO-com­mis­sioned heavy duty com­mu­ni­ca­tions satel­lites are crit­i­cal to im­prov­ing mo­bile in­ter­net and broad­band speed, where In­dia lags.

GSAT-6A is ISRO’s sec­ond fail­ure in re­cent months and, co­in­ci­den­tally, was the first launch af­ter K. Si­van took charge as the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s chair­man. The mishap, how­ever, will not be a de­ter­rent to fu­ture mis­sions, in­clud­ing the launch of the In­dian Re­gional Nav­i­ga­tional Satel­lite Sys­tem (IRNSS-1I) and the Chan­drayaan-2 mis­sion.

UP IN SMOKE The GSLV-F08, car­ry­ing the GSAT-6A satel­lite, blasts off from Sri­harikota

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