India's second mission to the Moon-- Chandrayaan-2--was called off due to a 'technical snag' in its most powerful rocket a little less than an hour before launch from a spaceport in Sriharikota in the early hours of Monday.
Scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) were assessing the seriousness of the problem with the heavylift rocket GSLV Mk-III rocket carrying the satellite that put a halt to the ambitious Rs 976 crore lunar mission amid uncertainty over a future launch date.
The ISRO was tightlipped as to what may have caused the glitch that occurred when liquid propellant was being loaded into the rocket's indigenous cryogenic upper stage engine.
But several space scientists said the space agency must be appreciated for calling off the launch of rather than hurrying into a major disaster.
Watched by President Ram Nath Kovind, the countdown to the launch of Chandrayaan-2 on board Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle GSLV-Mk-III, dubbed as 'Baahubali', was scheduled for 2.51 am.
The mission was stopped 56 minutes and 24 seconds before lift-off at 1.55 am following an announcement from the Mission Control Centre.
Confusion prevailed for several minutes before the ISRO came out with an official confirmation about the launch being cancelled.
"A technical snag was observed in the launch vehicle system at t-minus 56 minutes. As a measure of abundant precaution Chandrayaan 2 launch has been called off for today," ISRO Associate Director (Public Relations) B R Guruprasad said. He did not specify the nature of the snag
A revised launch date will be announced later, he added.
"Launch is called off due to technical snag. It is not possible to make the launch within the (launch) window. (A new) launch schedule will be announced later," another ISRO official said,
India's space agency had earlier scheduled the launch in the first week of January but shifted it to July 15.
The lift-off of the three-component spacecraft weighing 3,850 kg and comprising an orbiter, the lander and the rover was scheduled from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota, off the coast of Andhra Pradesh.
The satellite was supposed to explore the uncharted lunar south pole, 11 years after ISRO's successful first lunar mission-- Chandrayaan-1, which made more than 3,400 orbits around the moon and was operational for 312 days till August 29, 2009.
It would have taken 54 days to accomplish the task of landing on the Moon through meticulously planned orbital phases.
After a full dress rehearsal last week, the countdown for the mission commenced at 6.51 am on Sunday and scientists had undertaken various stages of propellant filling to power the rocket ahead of the launch.
Billed as the most complex and prestigious mission ever undertaken by the ISRO since its inception, Chandrayaan-2 would have made India the fourth country to soft land a rover on the lunar surface after Russia, the United States and China.
"ISRO has an exceptional success rate when it comes to launching systems. Checking and diagnosing complex systems in a rocket till the last minute is an art by itself, which they seem to have mastered," said Rajesh Kumble Nayak, head of the Centre for Excellence in Space Sciences India in Kolkata's Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER).
"I am glad that people at ISRO decided to hold back rather than hurrying into a major disaster. I guess the mission will be held back for a few weeks, which is much better than a failure," Nayak told PTI.
Despite the odd hour, enthusiasts of all ages reached the island, some of them travelling long distances on two wheelers, to witness the proud moment.
The men, women and children waiting at a special gallery, set up recently by ISRO, left the venue disappointed as the mission did not go as expected.
ISRO had set up the gallery-- inaugurated by Chairman K Sivan a few months ago-- on the sprawling Sriharikota premises as the number of spectators turning up to witness launches has been increasing over time.
"We do not know what happened but we are disappointed. I hope they rectify whatever the issue is. We will come back again to witness the launch," said a young boy, holding aloft the tricolour, who had come with his family.
A man standing nearby said it was good scientists had called off the launch when the rocket was still on the ground.
"If it had gone into space and something had happened there, the huge amount of money spent on the mission would have gone to waste," he said.