India’s premier rocket, known as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, failed to put a navigation satellite into orbit earlier this morning, after some unknown malfunction prevented the satellite from leaving the vehicle. The Verge reports: The rocket 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 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. 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.
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