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Rocket scientist Somnath replaces Sivan as ISRO chief

January 14, 2022
S. Somnath is the new chief of the Indian Space Research Organization. — courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls
S. Somnath is the new chief of the Indian Space Research Organization. — courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls

NEW DELHI — S. Somnath, an eminent rocket scientist, has been appointed as the chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), a personnel ministry order issued on Wednesday said. K. Sivan, the outgoing chairperson, will be completing his extended term on Friday. Sivan was appointed as the ISRO chief in January 2018 and was given a one-year extension till Jan. 14, 2022.

Somnath’s appointment as the Space Secretary and the Space Commission Chairman is for a combined tenure of three years from the date of joining of the post, inclusive of an extension in tenure beyond the age of superannuation in public interest, the government order said.

Expressing happiness over his appointment, Somnath said, “Areas of focus will be technology, policy, implementation and areas where stakeholders need to be taken care of. We need to bring in newer approaches; have to work with various capacity builders like tech companies.”

Somnath, who will be the 10th chairman of the premier space organization, took charge as the VSSC’s head on Jan. 22, 2018, after a two and a half years stint as the Director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC), Valiamala, Thiruvananathapuram.

Previously, he served as the Associate Director (Projects) of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and also as the Project Director of GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle.

Under Somnath's leadership, the first experimental flight of LVM3-X/CARE mission was successfully accomplished on December 18, 2014.

The new ISRO chief did his B Tech in Mechanical Engineering from TKM college of engineering, Kollam, and Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, with specialization in structures, dynamics and control. He was a gold medalist.

Somnath is an expert in the area of system engineering of launch vehicles.

After a rather muted 2021 which was hit by COVID pandemic for the second successive year, the Indian Space Agency is gearing up for the New Year with a series of missions in 2022.

In his New Year message, to ISRO scientists, Sivan said “last year, we had two missions in which one was a dedicated commercial mission by NSIL. The GSLV-F10/EOS-03 mission failed due to cryogenic stage anomaly.

A National level Failure Analysis Committee was constituted for the same and the committee has identified the root cause and given its recommendations. Necessary design changes are being incorporated to improve the robustness of concerned systems, Dr. Sivan said.

The GSLV-F10, carrying the Earth Observation Satellite, EOS-03, took off from the SHAR Range, Sriharikota on Aug. 12, 2021 at 0543 hrs as scheduled. The performance of first and second stages was normal. However, the Cryogenic Upper Stage ignition did not happen due to technical anomaly and the mission could not be accomplished as intended.

Announcing the plans for 2022, Dr. Sivan said “if you look, at the immediate task at hand this year, we have many missions to execute, including the first unmanned Gaganyaan mission.”

He said some of launch missions were EOS-4 and EOS-6 on board PSLV. Launch of EOS-02 on board maiden flight of the Small Sattelite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).

Many test flights for Crew Escape System of Gaganyaan and launch of the first unmanned mission of Gaganyaan would also take place this year.

“In addition, we also have Chandrayaan-03 mission, Aditya Ll, XpoSat, IRNSS and technology demonstration missions with advanced indigenously developed technologies on-board,” Dr. Sivan said.

He said ISRO has three new space science missions in the pipeline. They included DISHA, a twin aeronomy satellite mission, Venus mission and ISROCNES joint science mission TRISHNA.

TRISHNA mission is meant for accurate mapping of land surface temperatures. This mission will be the benchmark for providing temperature data at best resolution and repeatability even globally, Dr. Sivan said .

India’s flagship GAGANYAAN project has completed the design phase and has entered into the testing phase, he said.

He said ISRO has formulated a decadal plan for the Indian Space Program as the space industry was changing very rapidly and service demands ballooning.

“Today, when we look forward, we not only look forward to the next year, but to the next decade. Sound planning is essential for the next decade given that the space industry is changing very rapidly and service demands from space industry is ballooning,” Dr. Sivan said.

“We have formulated the decadal plan for the Indian Space Program for the country as a whole, keeping the ethos of space sector reforms to enable the national space sector which includes ISRO, academia and private sector. This is to foster all-round growth in operational missions, launch services, science missions, technology demonstration missions and new technology development initiatives,” he said. — Agencies


January 14, 2022
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