Accessibility links

India's Efforts to Master Cryogenic Engine Tech Setback Commercial Space Program

India's ambitious attempt to master a technology needed to launch heavy satellites into space has not succeeded. This could setback the country's hopes of getting a bigger share of the multibillion dollar global satellite launch market.

The launch of a rocket using a domestically built cryogenic engine Thursday evening from Sriharikota in southern India was meant to demonstrate India's mastery of a complex technology.

Cryogenic engines are rocket motors designed for fuels that have to be held at very low temperatures, and make it possible to launch heavy satellites into space.

But disappointed Indian scientists saw the rocket veer off its path after eight minutes and plunge into the Bay of Bengal.

The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization K. Radhakrishnan said the rocket went out of control.

"We saw the vehicle was tumbling indicating that controllability was lost…The detailed analysis of the flight data would be carried out," he said.

He said that Indian scientists will continue work to perfect the technology within a year.

India has spent nearly two decades on developing the cryogenic engine. Only the United States, Russia, France, Japan and China posses the restricted technology.

The failure of the flight test using a cryogenic engine will setback India's efforts to grab a larger slice of the multi-billion dollar commercial satellite launch business.

The lucrative market is currently controlled by an exclusive club of space-faring nations, including the United States, Russia, China, Ukraine and the European Space Agency.

The launch of a small Italian satellite into space in 2007 gave India a foothold in the market.

However India's dependence on Russian built cryogenic engines to launch heavy satellites has hampered growth, and prompted Indian scientists to develop the technology.

Indian space scientists hope to offer satellite launch services at much cheaper rates compared to Western countries, and expand the business to about $120 million a year.

India is an emerging space power and has been designing and building rockets for an ambitious space program.