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Future Space Program Of India

The Indian Space Program is a very robust and mature Space Program. While large amount of work in the research areas of Astronomy, Cosmic Rays and Upper Atmosphere was going on in our country immediately after independence in 1947, organized and focused Space Research program can be said to have been started in 1960. The Indian National Committee on Space Research INCOSPAR was formed in 1962 and the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station TERLS was established in 1963. In the last fifty eight years or so the Space Program of our country has grown very rapidly.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had conceived the Space Program of our country and had led the program till end of 1971. The program was started in the spirit of international cooperation and collaboration. That character of the space program is still evident. He had said, ‘There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society’. He had thought about the overall scope of the program and had communicated and shared his ideas with his colleagues. We are very fortunate that he had shared his vision not only with us but also with the scientific community, government administrators, politicians, members of the parliament, industrialists and general public. He had released the first ‘Decade profile for atomic energy and space’ in 1969. Since then such detailed decade profiles are being regularly issued by Indian Space Research Organization ISRO. In these decade profiles ideas and goals are expressed. These are not budgets or plan documents. These documents inform everybody the intentions, and enable participation. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had passed away by end 1971 but the ideas expressed by him were followed up very seriously by ISRO. True to his vision our space program has been driven by the Applications of the Space Technology to improve our day to day life. The program has been developed in really self reliant manner. Large number of industries large and small have been participating and contributing in the Space Program.

Certain ideas expressed in the first profile about our launch vehicle capabilities were realized only when GSLV Mark III vehicle successfully launched GSAT 19, a communication satellite weighing 3100 kilogram from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. There have been delays due to many obstacles and some failures but the organization has been working patiently and diligently and had never abandoned the goals.

On the 29th March 2018, ISRO had successfully launched the GSAT 6 A using GSLV F08 vehicle. The satellite GSAT 6 A will be extremely useful to our defence communication capabilities.

(GSLV F08 vehicle carrying GSAT 6 A at lift off on 29th March 2018)

This successful flight of the GSLV vehicle has clearly indicated that the changes carried out to the vehicle systems to realize large lift capability were proper and thus when the GSLV vehicle is used for further missions, it will be safe.

The scientific community is looking forward to the realization of the Chandrayaan II mission this year. This is a very ambitious mission involving the use of a Lunar Orbiter satellite, a Lunar Lander and a Lunar Surface Rover. We had used the PSLV launch vehicle for launching the Chandrayaan I mission and for the heavier Chandrayaan II mission; we will need to use improved GSLV launch vehicle.

We have explored the Moon and the Mars. The instruments developed for the Chandrayaan I mission have contributed immensely to our understanding of presence of water on the Moon. The results from the Mars Orbiter Mission are providing us insights in to the topography of the Mars. The ASTROSAT, a satellite launched for the Astronomy and Astrophysics is providing opportunities for scientists from all over our country to participate in astronomical research.

We know how we have come up to this time and we need to think about the future space program. While the space program has been driven by the applications of the space technology, the scientific exploration and technological advances have not been neglected. We must remember that our stated goal is utilization of science and technology for the national development in a self reliant manner. In order to be able to do that we must look towards all round development of scientific and engineering education, technology utilization, technology transfer and industrial participation.

Chandrayaan II mission will provide us opportunities for understanding the surface of the Moon near the south pole of the Moon. All earlier lunar landing missions had explored the surface near the equator of the moon. One of the exciting new missions will be the Aditya mission for the exploration of the Sun. One of the very exciting subjects in scientific exploration of the Moon concerns the mining of Helium 3, an isotope of Helium. While many fantasy types of projects under discussion are aimed at collecting Helium 3 on the Moon and transporting it back to Earth for use in Fusion energy generation. The more elegant way would be to use it on the Moon to support a habitat there.

As the space communication systems were growing a large number of projections were made which predicted that as the fiber optic communications grow the demand for communication satellites will reduce. In the last decade the demand for large communication satellites has been actually growing. There has been a steady growth in the satellite communication systems considering the growth of mobile communications. The demand for communication satellites is growing and we are able to meet the demand with our indigenously made communication satellites and launch vehicles. Today it is almost impossible to imagine our life without Television.

The maximum utilization of the capabilities of space communication systems in our country is occurring for direct to home television broadcasting. The Indian television system is one of the largest systems in the world. Every year we are seeing continuing growth in the requirements of transponders of television. When the satellites started providing television broadcasting services we were able to use one transponder for one television channel. Today with the digital technology we can use the same for about sixteen channels. Even then there is growth in demand.

We had developed the EDUSAT, a communication satellite for educational purpose. During the useful lifetime of the satellite it was not fully used. We need full participation of the educational institutions to be able to use the capabilities of such a satellite. In the future we will need to target use of computers in classrooms instead of television sets and cater extensively for two way interactive communications.

The Telemedicine systems are growing and in the future there will be far more demands for such systems as our health services grow. Such systems require more understanding and patience from the users. The telemedicine system is also very useful for continuing education for doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians.

The value of remote sensing satellites or satellites for earth observations was recognized very early by ISRO and after experimentation we have developed the Indian Remote Sensing satellites. Our initial satellites were launched by USSR and now we have the capability to launch our own remote sensing satellites. The data generated using our Resourcesats and Cartosats is not only being used in our country but the services of these satellites are being used worldwide. These services are excellent and important foreign exchange earners. Images from our Radar Imaging Satellite are being routinely used for many purposes.

We will need to have many missions in the future which will be ocean oriented. We have to vigilant about the safety and security of the Exclusive Economic Exploitation Zone –EEEZ. We will need to constantly monitor the coastal zones to understand the erosion and danger to the marine life. We have a large coastline to be monitored.

The demand for earth oriented space missions is growing and demand for smaller satellites is growing. A large number of imaging and remote sensing satellites are being developed by universities and smaller companies. The launch vehicles of ISRO particularly the PSLV vehicle is in great demand.

The successful delivery of 104 satellites in one mission had demonstrated ISRO capabilities to the users. In that mission there were 88 Dove satellites. These were low weight, low cost, high performance earth observation satellites. In the future there will be many more such missions.

At this time ISRO is considering the ability of our industries to be able to deliver not just the subsystems but also the satellites and complete launch vehicle systems. This will require full support of ISRO and other government departments. We can certainly do this. This will result in ISRO being able to concentrate on futuristic technology.

The global climate change is a reality. The sudden extreme meteorological events and disasters are growing. In order to fully understand the reasons and effects of such changes we need to carry out many missions specifically targeting the atmospheric research. Such missions will require a large number of earth oriented satellites.

In the 1974 discussions Prof. P. R. Pisharoty had put forward a very important goal for meteorological observations and weather forecasting. He had said, ‘When an aircraft pilot plans a flight he is given a weather briefing. He is told about the weather at the airport from where he is going to take off, the weather en route and weather at the destination. Can we provide a briefing of that quality and details to our farmers about the monsoon?’ We have yet to achieve that and we need to make efforts in that direction.

We have developed the SLV3, ASLV, PSLV, GSLV Mark II and GSLV Mark III launch vehicles. This is the time to start the development of a new small vehicle which will meet the demand for such small vehicles for international users and our own national users. The requirement of flexible multi mission launch vehicle is real and we need to respond to that.

We have developed the necessary technology for solid propellants, earth storable liquid propellants as well as cryogenic liquid propellants. In order to develop lower cost options for access to space we will need to develop semi cryo liquid propellant technology using kerosene and liquid oxygen. The semi cryo propellant technology will be very attractive in the future considering lower levels of pollutions caused by such rockets.

We have experimented with air breathing rockets and reusable launch vehicle technology -RLVTD developments. We need to firm up the requirements and take the necessary steps to realize the technology on a firm footing. The concept of reusable launch vehicle was realized by NASA of USA for the Space Shuttle Orbiter for their Space Transportation system. Today SPACE X had demonstrated that. We need to work for realizing such a goal for us.

We had carried out so far only one space recovery experiment. We will need many more such experiments for achieving our goals of Human Space Program. The Space Tourism has been discussed for a long time. That need not be the goal for our Human Space Program. We need to hold very much wider discussions on the purpose and benefits of such a massive program. The Human Space Program will become a necessity if we were to embark on space exploration with Human Habitat on Moon or Mars.

We have established our own Indian Region Navigation Satellite System NAVIC. The system is now stabilized. The position determination services provided by NAVIC system are comparable to the GPS system. The use of the system and demands for its use will grow only when we are able to deliver the ground receivers in very large numbers. The NAVIC system has a very important feature that enables us to deliver ‘messages’. This feature can be used in many ways. It is demonstrated that it is actually helping our fishermen in locating Potential Fishing Zones. It is resulting in direct economic benefit.

Over the years we have developed the necessary technology for launching our satellites using our own launch vehicles. This has given us the access to space. We need to make all efforts to see to it that this access is secure. There were denials of products and services. There were denials of technologies. There were embargos. We have still persisted. We must now make certain that such situations do not occur again.

The future is certainly bright. There are many opportunities for our younger generation. There are growing opportunities for our higher educational institutions and universities for participation in our space program. ISRO has very well structured sponsored research program. Through this program Universities and IITs are participating in the necessary research and development of systems and technologies.

Let me conclude here with a quote from Promod Batra, ‘If you reach for stars, you might not actually get one but you will not come up with fistful mud either’.

– Dr. Pramod Kale


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