Indian Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Fails in Maiden Launch Attempt

Small Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off on maiden flight. (Credit: ISRO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

India’s new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle failed to orbit two small satellites on Sunday after its fourth stage engine failed to fire as planned, stranding the two Earth observation satellites in an unstable elliptical orbit from which they later burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The fourth stage, known as the Velocity Trimming Module (VTM), was designed to place the spacecraft into a circular orbit 356 km high. Instead, the spacecraft ended up in a 356 by 76 km after separating from the module, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said. The failure came after the first three stages performed as designed.

In a video posted on the agency’s website, ISRO Chairman Shri S. Somanath said the fourth stage’s on-board computer did not realize a crucial sensor on VTM had failed, so it was unable to take corrective action so the stage fired as planned.

ISRO lost the EOS-02 Earth observation microsatellite in the failed launch. The second payload was AzaadiSAT, a student-built Earth observation spacecraft supplied by Space Kidz India.

Somanath said ISRO was happy that SSLV’s first three stages had performed nominally on SSLV’s first flight test after liftoff from the Satish Dhawan Space Center.

SSLV is designed to place payloads weighing 500 kg (1,102 lb) into low Earth orbit and 300 kg (661 lb) into sun synchronous orbit. It is designed as India’s entry into the small-satellite launch market. The rocket is designed to be assembled and launched quickly and inexpensively.

SSLV was the first failure among six new launch vehicles that have flown this year.

New Launch Vehicle Flights, 2022

DateLaunch VehicleLaunch ProviderLaunch SiteNotes
March 29, 2022Long March 6ACASC (China)TaiyuanUpgraded Long March 6 with two first stage engines and four solid-rocket boosters
April 29, 2022Angara-1.2Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)PlesestkFirst orbital flight; suborbital test conducted in 2014
June 21, 2022Nuri (KSLV-II)KARI (South Korea)NaroFirst successful flight, maiden launch failed in 2021
July 13, 2022Vega CArianespace (Europe)Europe’s Spaceport (French Guiana)Upgraded version of Vega booster with 50% more payload capacity; built by Avio
July 27, 2022ZK-1A (Lijian-1)CAS Space (China)Jiuquan (China)Successful maiden flight; commercial spinoff of Chinese Academy of Sciences
Aug. 7, 2022Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV)ISRO (India)Satish DhawanFailure due to fourth stage failing to fire as planned
Source: Wikipedia

China, Europe, Russia and South Korea all conducted successful of new launchers. SSLV and ZK-1A are new boosters. Long March 6A and Vega C are significantly upgraded versions of existing launch vehicles. Angara 1.2 made its first orbital flight; a downgraded version of the rocket successfully flew suborbital in 2014. Nuri made its second flight after it failed during its maiden launch last September.

The world has entered a busy stretch where at least 26 new rockets are launching for the first time. You can read more about this surge in launch vehicles here: Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide.