SLV-3 E2 Launch | India's First Orbital Flight
Forty years ago, India launched it's first orbital flight with Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) carrying the Rohini (RS-1) satellite.
A tethered balloon, installed specially to live telecast the event, was blown off by strong winds. An umbilical cable refused to come off a few minutes before the take-off command and the nervousness due to the previously failed flight. These were a few of the challenges overcome by the ISRO scientists to make India the seventh nation to conduct the first orbital flight. Forty years ago, India launched the Rohini 1 (RS-1) satellite onboard the SLV-3 E2 mission under the leadership of Dr Kalam and Dr Satish Dhawan.
The First Partially Unsuccessful Flight
The first flight of the SLV-3 launch vehicle on 10th August 1979 was unsuccessful. The lift-off was flawless, followed by a perfect performance of the first stage. The rocket started underperforming due to a leak (detected later) once the second stage took over and ended up in the Bay Of Bengal. ISRO received a lot of backlash from the Media. It was even dubbed as the Sea-Loving Vehicle.
Prof Satish Dhawan (Chairman of ISRO) and Dr Brahm Prakash (Director of VSSC) made sure Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (Mission Director of SLV-3) and his team don’t lose their mantle and start working on the next launch.
Special Arrangements for the Second Flight
For the second flight, scheduled on 18th July 1980, Dr Dhawan decided to allow Doordarshan to telecast the launch. But DD was not yet equipped with the technology for a live telecast. Engineers at Space Applications Centre, Ahemdabad tethered a balloon with a transponder in between SHAR and Madras. Experts from TIFR’s ballon facility at Hyderabad came in specially for this project.
Prof. Yash Pal and Dr Aravamudan were roped in to do the commentary. But alas, the blimp designed for low-speed breezes flew off in strong winds when the tether broke. Madras Station then telecasted a recorded launch with commentary.
Stubborn Remote-Controlled Cable
There were two sets of umbilical cords attached to the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3). One set came off automatically at the launch while the heavier set was detached remotely. A few minutes before the take-off, the sequence had to be put on ‘hold’ because the cable refused to come off. A technician named Bapiah came to the rescue.
The launch vehicle was armed and hence very unsafe for anyone to come near. The technician volunteered to climb the 60 m launch tower and remove the cable. It was highly risky, but with no other option, safety was put on hold. Bapiah climbed the tower and kicked the cable, coaxing it to come off!
The Over-Performing Launch
On 19th July 1980, the SLV-3 launch vehicle lifted off with the RS-1 satellite making India the seventh nation to conduct an Orbital Flight. The launch as tracked by the SHAR ISTRAC station indicated slight overperformance, but the Down Range Station (DRSN) at Nicobar missed the visibility. Prof Dhawan and all other senior scientists were waiting for the news on-orbit insertion and health of the satellite. The insertion point was not within the ISTRAC station range. Therefore, it was the Trivandrum station that would hear the first communication from the RS-1.
Dr Ved Prakash maintained real-time contact with the station. At about 5-10 degree elevation, the sudden emergence of background hissing sound of RS-1 telemetry was heard. The satellite pass continued for around half a minute, indicating over performance and significantly higher perigee. Prof Dhawan called Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who announced the news to the nation as the first item of the day in the Parliament.