NEW DELHI, India, July 13, Reuter: The failure of an Indian space launch on Wednesday — it’s second in a row — is a major blow to the country’s space program but is unlikely to deter keen pursuit of its ambitions, western diplomats said.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), based in the Southern city of Bangalore, said its Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) plunged into the Bay of Bengal 210 seconds after blast off.

It had lifted off on schedule from the launch station on the Island of Sri Harikota, near Madras, carrying a 150 kg (1330 pounds) payload of weather related scientific instruments, one of them developed in cooperation with West Germany.

But 3 1/2 minutes later the 39tonne rocket designed and built in India disappeared from radar screens and ISRO officials admitted it had failed.

It was a bitter blow after 15 months of intensive research and redesign since the first ASLV plunged into the Bay of Bengal 164 seconds after launch on March 24, 1987, watched by its most ardent sponsor, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who also holds the space portfolio.

‘A western air attaché, who asked not to be identified, said the estimated India’s plan to fire two more ASLVS into space by the end of 1989 had been set back by at least a year.

“But I would be astounded if they were to slacken their efforts on the space scene”, he added.

Indian pride commercial ambitions and possible military spinoffs were all riding on the ill-fated ASLV.

Although most of its 800 million people still live in poverty, India sees itself a natural leader of the developing world and looks to technological achievements to place it beside more advanced nations.

Its aim of becoming the sixth satellite launching space power — after the United States, the Soviet Union, the European space agency, China and Japan — is only a beginning.

Designed as the workhorse of the Indian space program, the ASLY was planned as forerunner to much larger rockets able to put play loads of more than one tone into geostationary orbit and eventually to offer launching facilities to other nations.

“Apart from national pride, India sees a commercial future in satellite launching, especially in the developing world”, said one diplomat.

But the road is proving stonier than the Indians hoped. Since 1975, four Indian satellites have been launched on board Soviet rockets and one by the European Ariane vehicle.

But its own six launchers into low orbit have produced only two successes the most recent as far back as 1983.

“Our program up to the year 2000 includes achievement of total self-reliance in satellite technology, rocket technology and application of space technology to solve major national problems”, said ISRO chairman Udipi Ram Chandra Rao recently.

Diplomats said he was probably referring to areas such as accurate forecasting of the monsoon, on which India’s food production depends, and minerals research.

Only three months ago Rao was confidentially predicting the first of India’s next generation of launchers, weighing 275 tons, could lift off as early as the end of next year.

That target was now clearly impossible, said the Western Air Attaché.

But he said the latest failure would delay, not end, India’s ambitious space plans.

“It would be a terrible admission of defeat if they were to pull the plug on the program,” he said. “They will press on”.

Article extracted from this publication >> July 22, 1988