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October 13, 2007

Dr Suresh Lecture at Zephyr - Investigation of Failures in Launch Vehicles

Zephyr is an aero festival organised by aerospace engineering department of IIT Bombay. This year, Zephyr 2007 was organised from October 5th to 7th. On the evening of October 5th, Dr B Suresh, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), gave an inaugural address on failures experienced by ISRO and VSSC in the Indian space initiatives. He pointed out that ISRO's failure rates were more or less comparable with those of space programmes the world over, which is very remarkable because ISRO learned and developed only by its own experience, as the space programmes all over the world maintain secrecy and doesn’t share with their experience or data.

Starting from the failure of its first ever rocket, the SLV3, on 18 august 1979, he said that failure and success are separated by a very thin, but extremely critical line. Failure is expensive, as each PSLV and GSLV mission that fails costs between Rs 300-350 crore.

He also said that among India's four major launch vehicles - SLV, ASLV, PSLV, and GSLV - the PSLV programme has been most successful, with only one failure in 12 launches. He then mentioned that the initial launch failures experienced by ISRO were mainly due to equipment failures, as time went on ISRO gained great experience and now equipment failures became rare and only human failures more common cause of disasters.

Pointing out that the first PSLV launch failure resulted from a single solenoid valve that did not close properly owing to a dust particle and the GSLV failure in 2006 that resulted from a one-mm larger aperture in one of the strap-on boosters, Dr Suresh said the failure of even a small critical system amongst hundreds of such systems can make all the difference.

However, ISRO has limited the number of failures by setting up failure analysis committees, where the committee thoroughly analysis the data obtained from each failure. In fact the re-entry vehicle tested earlier this year in preparation for our lunar mission Chandrayaan, and for possible manned flights in future, exceeded the parameters prescribed for it, and could be described as close to perfect. By his address, the first day of Zephyr 2007 came to an end and everyone was eager to listen to his next lecture on the second day morning, i.e., on 6th of October.


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