ISRO’S Workhorse Fails! – PSLV C39 Mission Fails

7 months ago Ishan Chourey 0

PSLV’s third crash in 20 years.

August 31st marked a disappointment for Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) when its workhorse PSLV C39 failed on its mission to place a satellite for PM Modi‘s NavIC program.

This is PSLV’s 3rd failed mission in the span of 20 years since its commission.

The mission was to launch IRNSS 1H, which was supposed to be a part of satellite cluster, for NAVIC, India’s regional navigation.

“The heat shield didn’t not separate, as a result, the satellite is enclosed in the body of the fourth stage. So the mission is unsuccessful.” Officials statement by ISRO Charman, A.S. Kiran Kumar, after PSLV’s failure.

As it happened:

The morning of 31st August was idle for launch, the team was enthusiastic and optimistic for its next successful launch.

ISRO’s optimism in PLSV because of its streak of successful launches, including the 104 launch, that success of this mission was taken for granted.


Soon after stage 3 separation, congratulatory messages started to fly around on social media and success reports were almost into prints.

But the command room which was used to cheers and congratulatory messages, felt silent and serious as command reported a problem with the heat shield in stage four separation.

Later, it was confirmed that heat shield failed to separate in the fourth stage, the satellite remained enclosed in it, resulting in mission failure.

The total loss estimated for PSLV/IRNSS-1H mission failure is estimated close to Rs. 280 crore.

An official investigation is initiated to find the reasons for heat shield failure.

The Workhorse’s Third Stumble:

PSLV has a great success track. It is known to have achieved remarkable results in past, almost always achieving near projected trajectories.


Previously, PSLV disappointed ISRO on two occasions:

  • 1993: First launch of PSLV was a failure. It was an understandable failure as ISRO was just starting to get his hands dirty in the big leagues.
  • 1997: PSLV failed for the second time, not reaching the orbit it was reaching for.

Initial Investigation Results:

  • Initial analysis suggested a failure in PSLV’s pyro bolts, a set of bolts used in payload firing.
  • These bolts have a nautch and certain amount of explosives in the. Once the explosives go off, bolt shear off along the satellite’s protective casement is removed.

ISRO Will Bounce Back:

The biggest question today is that will this failure affect ISRO’s commercial value. It will definitely smudge the ‘flawless record’ ISRO has been trying to maintain.

To access the commercial impact of PSLV’s failure, a comparison can be made with French launch vehicle, Arianespace(12 launches, 11 successful and 1 failure), German vehicle Dnepr(37 successful launches).

In comparison to these, PSLV’s three failures won’t amount to a big loss commercially, assuming ISRO is able to steady its workhorse and regain the ‘flawless record’.

Currently, ISRO has orders valuing over Rs.600 crore for PSLV launches up to 2020, almost all launches for Low Earth Orbit.

The $355 billion space industry is growing by the day, with ISRO playing a major role as a low-cost preference for countries like Russia, Germany, and the UK.