Opinion

ISRO all set to complete a hundred

M. SOMASEKHAR | Updated on March 12, 2018

ISRO’s PSLV-C19 launch from Sriharikota (file photo)…ISRO has built indigenous capability in the private sector. — PTI

September 9 is a big day: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch its 100th space mission. It should herald a new direction in the country’s quest to be among the top handful of nations with capabilities to harness space-based technologies for the public good.

It could well turn out to be a welcome change for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — away from facing the ire of the opposition parties on a growing number of scams.

The Prime Minister will get a ringside view (or bird’s eye view) of the 100th mission by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Spaceport at Sriharikota, in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. India’s space journey began in the mid-1960s with rockets from Thumba and the launch of Aryabhatta from Russia in 1975, but the first indigenous launch success came with the SLV 3 in 1979.

REMOTE-SENSING

PSLV, the ‘workhorse’ launcher of the ISRO, with an enviable track record of 20 launch successes in a row, will put into orbit two foreign satellites — a French and a Japanese. One of the two satellites piggybacking is the French SPOT satellite (remote sensing) that weighs 700 kg-plus and is built by Astrium SAS, a subsidiary of EADS. Proiteres, the Japanese satellite, on the other hand is a 16 kg, micro satellite.

Interestingly, the ISRO used to source imagery from the SPOT satellites in the initial days of its foray into remote sensing. It is to the credit of the space scientists that India has emerged as one of the strongest players in the remote sensing arena with its IRS satellites doing a commendable job in beaming back pictures of the country’s various natural resources.

For a nation obsessed with centuries — in cricket and Tendulkar’s 100th hundred — the success in the 100th mission should lift the spirits of the space scientists and propel them to greater challenges. Already, Chandrayan-II (Moon mission), the reusable launch vehicle, satellite to the Sun and the proposed mission to Mars, humans in space, are long-term mega projects on the table of ISRO. They call for synergies between scientists, industry and Government.

UNSAVOURY PAST

The space community and the Prime Minister would also be keen to put behind the rather unsavoury events of the recent past involving the former Chairman, Madhavan Nair, the present Chairman, K. Radhakrishnan, and the Prime Minister Office, after an investigation into the Antrix-Dewas spectrum allocation deal brought to light some irregularities. The developments have cast their shadow on the pace of activity at the ISRO.

The Satish Dhawan Launch Centre (SHAR) is all geared to the momentous occasion, though without much fanfare. The PSLV’s benchmark success compares with the best in the business, like the Arianespace of France, Delta of the US and the Russians Proton launchers. It is capable of placing 1600 kg payloads or multiple micro satellites into the Sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1,000 kg satellites in geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The success of the launch will further strengthen India’s capabilities in the commercial launch vehicle market. This is specially in the polar orbits and smaller satellites. However, the bigger challenge is to prove the consistency of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV, mark 1, II & later III), which can park heavier satellites of the Insat class and payloads weighing up to 5,000 kg into the geosynchronous (about 36,000 kms), stationary transfer orbit.

The mastery of the GSLV not only opens up bigger business opportunities, but will also drive the mega projects of the ISRO such as the Chandrayan and Mars mission. It should also be the mainstay of the nearly 60 missions planned by the ISRO in the near term. The space agency has made progress in GSLV mark I & II, while the mark III version is under design and development. The new launch pad at SHAR could also be used for launching Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III) carrying heavier satellites.

SPACE AND INDUSTRY

A big strength for the ISRO is domestic industry. The space agency has a pro-active policy to involve a large number of private industries right from the inception of its programmes. It is estimated that about 50-60 per cent of the programmes are industry’s contribution. Radhakrishnan has been quoted recently to the effect that the building of satellites and launch vehicles in future would be outsourced to the domestic industry.

The Space Department, in its annual report submitted to Parliament, would clearly state the spend on industry from their annual budget. Every Centre of ISRO has a technology transfer centre.

Further, it promoted an entrepreneur development programme encouraging staff to start industries and commercialise technologies, says Pavaluri Subba Rao, who started his Ananth Technologies nearly two decades ago.

At present, the ISRO averages three-four missions a year. The ambition is to increase it to 12 a year or 60 missions in the next five years. This would require 60 satellites and several launch vehicles. Application areas such as broadcasting, navigation, meteorology, data products of satellite imagery, and so on, have been contributing to national development.

Data products made out of imagery from the IRS satellites by private industry have been used in developmental projects. Its applications pan agriculture, urban planning and natural resources management. Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm, has also earned forex through export of remote sensing products.

Antrix has been a success story among scientific bodies in India. In close liaison with the technology transfer department in each of the space centres, it has been interfacing with industry quite well. A focused ISRO-industry meeting is scheduled in the middle of September to firm up a greater role for industry. At present, nearly 450 domestic industries contribute to space projects.

Published on September 07, 2012

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