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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Delhi
"This was to have been a milestone in India's space programme"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Indian satellite launch fails
Ariane lift off
India is hoping to match other rockets like Ariane
A rocket launch in India which was to open up a new phase in the country's space programme has failed.

The first test launch of a geostationary satellite launch vehicle was aborted after a fire broke out shortly after its Russian engines were ignited. The launch has now been postponed indefinitely.


Certainly it is a setback for us

ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan
The three-stage GSLV-D1 was due to blast off from the Sriharikota launch site in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

But shortly after its engines were fired, spurts of flames could be seen leaping up the side of the rocket.

Mission control at the launch site immediately cut the engines and the launch was aborted as spectators watched in stunned silence.

"Certainly it is a setback for us," the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Dr K Kasturirangan, said. "We have declared the mission cancelled for now."

Landmark launch

The ISRO chief said preliminary investigations revealed that one of the four liquid propellant strap-on stages had failed.

"When the third strap-on failed, the computer ordered shutdown of the system," he added.

Rocket AFP
Television pictures showed flames leaping up the side of the rocket
The launch was meant to be a landmark in India's space programme and was broadcast live on national television. India had hoped to join the elite global satellite launch club.

Only the United States, Russia, the European Union and China have the capability to launch such rockets.

The 49-metre long GSLV weighed 400 tonnes and carried an experimental satellite. It was potentially capable of launching considerably heavier satellites than India has the capacity to put into space at the moment.

"It is easily India's most challenging space mission. It is a milestone we have been waiting for," Dr Kasturirangan, had said.

US sanctions

Dr Kasturirangan said ISRO would initially launch its own communication satellites by using the GSLV with indigenously developed cryogenic engines.

Dr K Kasturirangan
Dr Kasturirangan: India's most challenging mission
It would save India more than $20m per launch. Arianespace, one of the major international space players, charges up to $70m for a satellite launch.

India had thus hoped to eventually enter the international commercial satellite launch market and offer a low-cost alternative.

Until now, India had launched its communications satellites on Russian or French rockets.

India had planned to use its own cryogenic engine to power the GSLV, but US technology sanctions after India's nuclear tests in 1998 forced it to look to Russia for help. An Indian engine is expected to take up to three years to develop.

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See also:

31 May 99 | South Asia
Lift-off for Indian space rocket
28 Apr 99 | South Asia
India enters space market
06 Nov 00 | South Asia
India ditches key satellite
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