India Loses Contact with New Communications Satellite Just Days After Launch

GSAT-6A communications satellite launch
The Indian Space Research Organisation successfully launched the GSAT-6A communications satellite on March 29, 2018, on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket, but lost contact with the satellite on March 30. (Image credit: ISRO)

India lost contact with a communications satellite only days after the country launched the craft into space, according to multiple media reports and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Recovery efforts are ongoing as India faces its second possible mission failure in less than a year.

GSAT-6A initially launched as planned on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket Thursday (March 29) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, near the Bay of Bengal on India's southeast coast. At first, the satellite behaved normally, but then ISRO lost contact with GSAT-6A at an undisclosed time on March 31 (Indian time). Communications ceased after the satellite finished the second of three planned engine-firings meant to raise its orbital altitude around Earth. [See more photos of India's GSAT-6A satellite launch]

The engine at first fired as planned for 53 minutes, ISRO said on its website yesterday (April 1). But then, GSAT-6A went silent. "When the satellite was on course to normal operating configuration for the third and the final firing, scheduled for April 1, 2018, communication from the satellite was lost," ISRO officials said in a statement.

The Times of India said that communications ceased only minutes after the second engine burn. "The agency received data from the satellite for about 4 minutes after the second orbit-raising operation, after which … it [satellite communications] went blank, a source said," the Times wrote yesterday (April 1).

ISRO is trying to re-establish the link. "The Mission Control is on the job continuously," said ISRO chair Kailasavadivoo Sivan, who only recently assumed that position, in another report from the Times. He added that data ISRO received shows it is possible to recover the satellite, but he did not offer specifics.

GSAT-6A was supposed to last 10 years and provide mobile communications in both S-band (microwave) and C-band (radio) frequencies, according to the Times. The satellite was also meant to improve communications for armed forces working in remote areas; in zones with little cellphone service, the military could receive satellite data using handheld ground terminals that would connect to this satellite.

Last week's launch marked the second possible mission failure since August 2017. At that time, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket placed the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) 1H satellite into a lower-than-expected orbit. The satellite also remained stuck inside the rocket's payload fairing, which failed to deploy, according to multiple media reports in India. 

The August incident was the first PSLV failure since September 1997, when the fourth stage of a PSLV put the IRS-1D remote sensing satellite into a lower orbit than planned.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: