2018 : A Year of many ‘firsts’ and ‘beginnings’
by Dr. K Sivan
New Year is the best time to celebrate what we have accomplished and determine what direction we want to head. The year 2018 was a year of many ‘firsts’ and ‘beginnings’ with profound growth in all directions! This year, ISRO completed 16 missions, signing off with 7 successful missions within 35 days. This included two successful GSLV missions in a single year. GSLV Mk-III completed its development flights and has entered the operational arena. GSAT-29, the heaviest satellite launched from Indian soil and GSAT-11, the heaviest satellite built by ISRO, are the two hallmark achievements this year. The national confidence in ISRO is reflected in the highest ever allocation of about Rs 30000 Crore for 23 new and continuation programmes in a single year.
The long cherished dream of ISRO to undertake a human spaceflight programme was fulfilled with the announcement of the Gaganyaan Programme by the Honourable Prime Minister on Independence day. The successful Pad Abort Test has provided additional confidence in reinforcing our readiness to pursue the Gaganyaan Programme. ISRO also got the approval for a new member of the Launch Vehicle family, the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) along with a dedicated launch pad. We have commenced the next phase of Reusable Launch Vehicle technology development towards an Orbital Recovery Experiment. PSLV, our workhorse vehicle, completed 25 years of its journey and has increased its customer base from 29 to 32 countries. The approval for 30 PSLV & 10 GSLV Mk-III operational flights, along with the development of Semicryogenic stage, uprated cryogenic stage and all-electric spacecraft propulsion will accelerate ISRO towards new heights and capabilities.
ISRO has been providing on-demand space based inputs for the Government for its citizen flagship programmes. The High Throughout Satellites, GSAT-29 & GSAT-11, along with GSAT-19 (launched in 2017) has enabled the Digital India initiative towards rural broadband connectivity with multiple spot beam coverage including J & K, North Eastern Region and the Andamans. The completion of IRNSS constellation along with the ground segment has opened up new avenues for several navigation and timing services. The distribution of hand held NavIC receivers to the fishermen community and the timing receivers at the Power Grid installations represent an expanding base of NavIC users.
ISRO has enhanced its role in the national programmes for socio-economic security and sustainable development. Out of the 158 national projects with various ministries, 94 have been completed. The National Geospatial Energy information system was developed for NITI Aayog. Earth Observation capabilities have been enhanced with emphasis on higher spectral & temporal resolution. Four National level mapping (on land use, land cover, land degradation and wasteland) has been completed. Near Real-time disaster management support was provided to 9 states for 15 disaster events and 21 countries for 32 disaster events. This included major flood events in Kerala and North Eastern Region, and cyclonic events like Gaja & Titli. ISRO entered into an MoU with the Ministry of Home Affairs to provide technical support for establishing a state-of-the-art Integrated Control Room for Emergency Management.
Several new technological milestones have been achieved by inducting the payloads for Hyper-Spectral Imaging (Hysis), Geo-imaging and Optical Communication (GSAT-29) by SAC, Ahmedabad. SCL, Chandigarh continued to support indigenization of strategic electronic component requirements with the fabrication of detector chip used in Hysis. Magnetically suspended Reaction Wheels & Metal optics are other technological achievements. Astrosat expanded the knowledge of astronomy through new discoveries related to evolution of stars. PRL, Ahmedabad announced the discovery of a sub-Saturn like planet using indigenously designed instrumentation. ISRO has taken initiative to safeguard our space assets through the establishment of indigenous capabilities for Space Situational Awareness.
Major infrastructure projects are underway for stepping up the launch capacity; the Second Vehicle Assembly Building for SLP is completed and the ongoing PSLV Integration Facility for FLP is in full swing. Establishment of Multi-Junction solar cell facility is a new initiative in a strategic area. ISRO is ready to transfer Lithium ion cell technology to Indian industry for societal applications.
The period also witnessed active discussions & partnerships with other space agencies in advanced technology areas of human spaceflight and other areas like LOX/Methane propulsion, joint satellite missions etc. A major initiative has been the UNNATI programme, which is an international programme to train participants on nanosatellite assembly, and has evoked major response from 34 countries.
ISRO is opening its doors to a large number of aspiring youngsters, especially from rural areas, through tailored outreach programmes. ISRO has initiated the establishment of six space incubation centres in unrepresented areas with the first such Centre in Agartala. The Satish Dhawan Centre for Space Sciences was inaugurated in Jammu and the ISRO Academia partnership is being taken to the next level through additional Space Technology Cells in reputed institutes.
The Year ahead…
The year 2019 promises to be much more challenging to the ISRO community with 32 planned missions (14 launch vehicle, 17 satellite and 1 Tech. Demo. missions). This includes the most complex Chandrayaan-2, which will be the 25th mission from SLP, and the development flights of SSLV. Gaganyaan activities will go in full steam to accomplish the various development & qualification milestones. ISRO is aiming to re-instate our microwave remote sensing capability through the RISAT series and attain operational Geo-imaging capability through the GISAT series. It is planned to progressively improve the payload capability of GSLV and its variants. The country will meet the high throughput bandwidth requirement of Digital India and also in-flight connectivity with the launch of GSAT-20. On the application side, crop production estimation will be enhanced to cover 10 additional crops and also provide vital inputs for water and energy security. 2019 is the centenary birth anniversary of the founding father of Indian Space Programme, Dr Vikram A Sarabhai. A yearlong celebration will commence on 12th August 2019 consisting of a host of national & international events such as the establishment of Department Chairs/Fellowships/Visiting scholarship in Universities, which were connected with Dr. Sarabhai during his formative years.
I take this opportunity to congratulate each one of you & your family members for bringing laurels to the organization and hope this continues in the years to come. As noted author Hal Borland said “ Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”