|The GSLV-D5 rocket carrying the GSAT-14 satellite at Sriharikota. (AFP)
Sriharikota, Aug. 19: The eagerly awaited launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-D5 with an indigenous cryogenic engine was called off this afternoon following a fuel leak in the second-stage engine of the rocket, causing huge embarrassment to India’s space agency.
The planned launch was to be a critical test for the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) after the last two GSLV flights, one with an Indian cryogenic engine and the other with a Russian one, had failed in April and December 2010.
But as Isro scientists waited eagerly to see how the third-stage cryogenic engine would perform, the fuel leak in the lower second stage of the rocket came as a nasty surprise.
The rocket was to carry the GSAT-14, a communications satellite, into space. A revised date will be announced later for the launch, which Isro engineers said would take at least two weeks.
The countdown was stopped abruptly 74 minutes before the scheduled 4.50pm lift-off after the fuel leak was detected just as cryogenic propellants were being loaded into the third-stage engine.
Isro chairperson K. Radhakrishnan told reporters the leak had been noticed two hours before the launch, and the countdown was stopped when the leak become larger.
Just as the countdown was nearing the one-hour mark, fumes could be seen just above the first-stage engine on the video screen in the media hall. The fire extinguisher on the launch pad was seen spraying extinguisher chemicals.
The video link from the launch pad to the media hall was discontinued after a few minutes. Eventually, an Isro official revealed the fuel leak and said the launch was being called off.
“The launch vehicle will be moved to the vehicle assembly building where it will be assessed and suitable action can be taken. We will look at all the data before making our assessment,” the Isro chairperson said.
The second-stage engine is powered by liquid fuel that can be stored under normal pressure and temperature on the ground. In the cryogenic stage, however, liquefied oxygen and hydrogen have to be cooled and stored under high pressure. They are pumped into the third-stage engine three hours before the launch.