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India's GSLV rocket to return to flight in early 2014

The Indian Space Research Organisation hopes to have its troubled Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) programme back on track in early 2014, making a flight scrubbed in August 2013, when engineers discovered a fuel leak in the second stage of the three-stage vehicle.

Critically, the flight will test a cryogenic upper stage developed by ISRO engineers without which the GSLV – a larger version of India’s successful, but smaller, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – looks to be doomed.

Prior to the development of its own upper stage, ISRO had been flying with Russia-supplied stages, but these are no longer available. The first attempt to launch GSLV with the home-grown stage failed in April 2010, following malfunction of the fuel booster turbo pump.

A subsequent failure in December 2010 with what is thought to be the last available Russian upper stage left the programme stalled. Unless it can return to flight with the early-2014 attempt, this may impact ISRO plans for more ambitious missions.

The Mangalyaan mission to Mars, launched in November 2013, is flying by PSLV rather than GSLV. The Chandrayaan-II Moon mission, scheduled for launch in 2013, and a crewed mission for 2016 will only take place if the GSLV is ready.

The early 2014 flight aims to launch India’s GSAT-14 communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit.