Skip to main content

India's workhorse rocket fails for the first time in decades

India's workhorse rocket fails for the first time in decades

/

The satellite it was carrying got trapped inside the vehicle’s nose cone

Share this story

A PSLV rocket launching during a mission in June.
A PSLV rocket launching during a mission in June.
Image: ISRO

India’s premier rocket failed to put a navigation satellite into orbit during a launch this morning, after some unknown malfunction prevented the satellite from leaving the vehicle.

The rocket, known as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, successfully took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India at 9:30AM ET. About a little over 10 minutes into the flight, however, the rocket seemed to be in a lower altitude than it need to be. A host during the live broadcast of the launch noted that there was a “variation” in the rocket’s performance. Later, an official with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the payload fairing — the cone-like structure that surrounds the satellite on the top of the rocket — failed to separate and expose the satellite to space. So the satellite was effectively trapped inside the fairing and could not be deployed into orbit.

It’s an unexpected failure for a fairly reliable rocket

It seems possible that the rocket’s low trajectory had to do with the fact that the fairing didn’t separate, making the vehicle heavier than it was supposed to be. "If the fairing doesn’t separate you’re lugging along all this extra weight, so you lose velocity and height,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert, tells The Verge. For now, it looks as if the top of the rocket with the trapped satellite will remain in orbit around Earth for the time being, says McDowell. Eventually, the air in Earth’s atmosphere will drag it down, though, and the vehicle will burn up during the descent.

It’s an unexpected failure for a fairly reliable rocket. Over the last 24 years, the PSLV has flown 41 times and has only suffered two failures in its launch history — the most recent mishap occurring during a mission in 1997. However, that mission was not a total loss as the satellite it carried was still able to make it to orbit. This was the first total failure of the rocket to happen since the PSLV’s very first failure in 1993.

The PSLV has become the backbone of India’s space program, used to launch probes to both Mars and the Moon. It’s also recently become a great ride-share option for satellite operators, allowing multiple probes to be sent into space during one launch. In February, the PSLV set a record by launching 104 satellites at once, which is the most that has ever gone up on a single rocket. Today’s launch was only supposed to send up one satellite, though — the eighth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System.

The PSLV also has some important launches coming. The vehicle is supposed to carry a private lander to the Moon for TeamIndus, a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize to send a privately funded vehicle to the lunar surface. However, with today’s failure, it’s unclear how the rocket’s schedule will be affected in the months ahead.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 7 minutes ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

R
The Verge
Richard Lawler7 minutes ago
Green light.

Good morning to everyone, except for the intern or whoever prevented us from seeing how Microsoft’s Surface held up to yet another violent NFL incident.

Today’s big event is the crash of a NASA spaceship this evening — on purpose. Mary Beth Griggs can explain.


D
David Pierce12 minutes ago
Thousands and thousands of reasons people love Android.

“Android fans, what are the primary reasons why you will never ever switch to an iPhone?” That question led to almost 30,000 comments so far, and was for a while the most popular thing on Reddit. It’s a totally fascinating peek into the platform wars, and I’ve spent way too much time reading through it. I also laughed hard at “I can turn my text bubbles to any color I like.”


T
Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
The Simpsons pays tribute to Chrome’s dino game.

Season 34 of The Simpsons kicked off on Sunday night with an opening credits “couch gag” based on the offline dino game from Google’s Chrome browser. Cactus, cactus, couch, d’oh! Perfect.


T
Youtube
Thomas Ricker7:29 AM UTC
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.