‘Naughty boy’ GSLV makes Isro parents proud with successful blast off : worldleaks
Suddenly on Sunday, cryogenics — the study of real low temperatures and their effects — was the hottest topic at India’s spaceport in Sriharikota. After more than 20 years of toil, India has been able to successfully fire an indigenous cryogenic engine to launch a GSLV rocket, a crucial milestone for future projects including Chandrayaan-2 and the manned mission.
“Today the naughty boy has become obedient,” said S Ramakrishnan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, referring to the many failures that came before the moment of triumph. Mastering cryogenic engine technology which involves using liquid hydrogen at -253°C and oxygen at -183°C has been a tricky feat.
So far, only US, European Space Agency, China and Japan have succeeded. The story of India’s struggle with the cryogenic engine is linked to the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991, the year in which India was to receive the technology from the Russians. The agreement was Soviet Union would transfer the technology to India and provide three cryogenic engines.
However, after the disintegration of USSR, Russia went back on the pact in 1993 and, under pressure from US, denied to part with the technology. But it agreed to provide four more fully made cryogenic engines, taking the number of such engines in India’s kitty to seven.
The man who then headed Isro‘s cryogenic project, Nambi Narayanan, managed to bring in crucial components of the engine from Russia without drawing US attention. When Air India denied to fly in the hardware fearing US embargoes, the Isro team used Russia’s Ural Airlines to transport it in three consignments.
But Narayanan soon found himself in prison following what came to be known as the Isro spy case. His arrest and the spying charges damaged the team’s morale. “There is no doubt the foisted case destroyed the organization’s morale,” Narayanan said. “Otherwise we would have had the cryogenic engine ready by 2001.”
In 2010, Isro thought it was finally ready. On April 15, GSLV-D3 lifted off carrying GSAT-4, but the engine failed 800 milliseconds after ignition. For the next launch, Isro determined to use one of the last two Russian engines, but again tragedy struck when liquid fuel boosters failed.
GSLV remained jinxed as another attempt to launch it using an indigenous cryogenic engine had to be aborted in August 18, 2013 after a leak was detected in a liquid fuel tank.
Radhakrishnan said: “In the last three years, we have done 45 different tests to ensure the indigenous engine is flawless. Today’s launch has come as the biggest reward.”
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