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Fire in the antenna test center of ISRO in Ahmedabad

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On May 3, 2018, a fire raged in the Space Applications Center (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). At least 25 fire engines were deployed to put out the fire at the Ahmedabad facility. The fire caused severe damage, particularly in the antenna test center.

The approximately forty employees of the facility who were on site were not injured because they were not in the affected premises. However, two security workers from paramilitary security forces protecting sensitive facilities (Central Industrial Security Force, CISF) and two firefighters had to be hospitalized for inhaling toxic fumes.

Satellite payloads that were being designed at the SAC and those that were on-site for testing are said not to have been damaged. However, the antenna test center and the highly specialized test equipment located in it was badly affected.

According to the fire department, the fire may be due to an electrical short circuit. The SAC said that the cause of the fire was being investigated by the police, that sabotage could not be ruled out, but that possible short circuits had long been in the focus of fire protection at the SAC. It cannot be ruled out that a short circuit will be picked up as a popular cover story in order to avoid a public discussion of the real cause.

The fire brigade (Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services, AFES) was informed of the fire on May 3, 2018 at around 2 p.m. local time IST (8:30 UTC, 10:30 CEST). It then took about two hours to put out the fire. The fire started somewhere on floors three and four of building number 37.

Antenna test chamber with pyramid absorbers in the ISRO SAC
(Image: ISRO SAC)
Molded parts made of polyurethane foam (“PU foam”, “U foam”) impregnated with graphite for the absorption of microwaves on the walls, floors and ceilings of the antenna test center accelerated the fire (not uncommon for the application). So-called pyramid absorbers convert energy into heat. If they are irradiated with too much power or too long with a certain power, they can catch fire. Corresponding incidents are not unknown.

When the fire in Ahmedabad on May 3, 2018, an air conditioning system shared for several rooms also contributed to the spread of the fire. In addition, burning and smoking cladding made of expanded polystyrene ("Thermocol Sheets" made of EPS) made it necessary to extend the extinguishing work.

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Source: Indiatoday, International Business Times - India Edition, NDTV, PTI, The Indian Express, The Times Of India