Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chandrayaan-2 may miss 2013 launch date

The hybrid Indo-Russian lunar lander with rover segment of ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 mission has been planned for 2013. Problems with the Sub-continent's indigenous heavy-booster are reported to be the cause [ISRO].

Kumar Chellappan
DNA, Mumbai
HT / Robert Zimmerman

If the estimates of space experts are anything to go by, India’s tryst with moon, Chandrayaan-2, may not happen as scheduled in 2013. Prime reason, cited by those in the know, is country’s inability to perfect the cryogenic engine technology.

“Unless you have the cryogenic engine technology, you will not be considered a space faring nation,” K Sasikumar, former head of Liquid Propulsion Centre of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) told DNA.

India has perfected the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) with which it can put only small satellites into the Low Earth Orbit, which is roughly 900 km from the earth. “We need heavy Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLV) for injecting heavy communication satellites weighing more than one tonne into the Geo-Synchronous Orbit (GSO), which is 36,000 km from the earth,” said Sasikumar.

Chandrayaan-2 project director Mylswamy Annadurai, however, refused to comment on the issue. “I am not authorized to speak to the media on the project,” he said.

Prototype of Chandrayaan-2 rover, as developed by August 2010.
Though ISRO tried to launch GSLV with an indigenously developed cryogenic engine in 2010, it plunged into the Bay of Bengal. India has launched seven GSLVs from Satish Dhavan Space Centre at Sriharikotta. Six of them were powered by cryogenic engines from Russia.

Though ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan claimed indigenous cryogenic engine would complete ground tests, a senior ISRO scientist said it will take years for us to fully operationalise and integrate the technology to the GSLV. “It is not an easy job. The fuel is liquid hydrogen and oxidant is liquid oxygen. You have to pump both liquid hydrogen and oxygen to create the energy and thrust needed to lift the heavy mission from the gravitational pull and put the payload into GSO,” said Nambi Narayanan, former chief of India’s cryogenic program.

Both Nambi Narayanan and Sasikumar had to leave ISRO following the 1993 spy scandal following which the cryogenic engine programme suffered a major setback.

“We don’t have right persons in right places in ISRO. No action has been taken over the FAC report [Failure Analysis Committee which went into the failures of two successive GSLV missions in 2010 submitted their findings and recommendations to the ISRO in early 2011] ,” said G Madhavan Nair, former ISRO chairman and an FAC member. He said the Antrix-Devas deal has been projected as a scam only as a diversionary tactic. “Till we perfect the cryogenic technology, we have to pay ARIANE, the European Space Consortium at French Guiana through our nose,” he said.

It is also said nations such as the United States, France, Japan and China do not want India to come up with its engines as they do not want India to challenge their monopoly in launch business. The US charges more than $50,000 per kg to launch a space craft while India would be able to bring down the cost to $18,000 per kg.

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