“Use of Space Technology for the needs of the common man’

When you know that every drop of your sweat means a phone call from a remote village in Nagaland to a suburb in Bombay, inspiration looms around!”

About the Expert:

Dr V. Narayanan took charge as the new director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) of ISRO in January earlier this year. He did his M.Tech in Cryogenic Engineering (1989) and PhD in Aerospace Engineering (2000)—both from IIT- Kharagpur and joined ISRO way back in 1984, later qualifying to pursue Ph.D. from ceramics engineering in 1988. Since then, there has been no looking back for Dr. Narayanan as he guided the liquid propulsion activities of ISRO and was instrumental in finalising the Liquid Propulsion Roadmap of ISRO for the next 20 years.

“31 satellites will be launched in one go on January 10th, 2018”.

ISRO smiles from a distance.

From its initial dragging of rockets and satellites on bicycles and bullock carts, ISRO has gone up to the world record of 104 satellite launches. The PSLV-C37 has finally etched the place that it has long fought for. And in this journey from caves to castles, ISRO’s unit of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) shares a large credit.

Dr. V Narayanan joined ISRO at a very junior position after his graduation. The Liquid Propulsion Project of ISRO had just started. Only 5 countries except India possessed this technology and naturally, held it close to them. Those were the times when the competition and rivalry for excelling in fields like space exploration was taken up upon honour and pride of nations.

We are all familiar with the cut throat race of Russia and USA to send the first man on space. India, realising that it needed these basic technologies for its future space technology development, started asking these countries for aids. This was a time of crisis, when we had to establish our place in space technology, but being having just gotten independence and being burned out by poverty, resources lacked everywhere.

Initially Russia came to help but due to some political issues, India couldn’t accept help from them. This left our scientists and scholars on their own feet, lost into a forest of hints but no way forward. That was the time when all the scientists associated with ISRO decided to start from scratch and build it all on their power.

What once seemed to be a bane, started appearing as a point of change for liquid propulsion technique for ISRO. A lot of path breaking discoveries came forth and our scientists started realising their potential and this independence brought out a new wave of light in the cabins of ISRO.

After days and nights of hard work and a lot of personal sacrifices on his part, Dr. Narayanan could see the flowers blooming after a harsh winter. There was a remarkable 17000 km/h addition in the velocity of their space crafts. Around early June, when it appeared in public and Dr. Narayanan’s works came to forefront, he was appointed to the post of Director,Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) of ISRO .

He accredits his team and explains how it was because of their joint efforts that they could make it happen. From the day of inception of the idea to actually seeing it take off, it took the ISRO scientists just 28 months. Most of the powerful and developed countries spent around 40 months to complete this project. ISRO works on the ideals of its founding fathers, i.e, ‘Use of Space Technology for the use of common man’ and when you know that every drop of your sweat means a phone call from a remote village in Nagaland to a suburb in Bombay, inspiration looms around!

What is next for LPSC in ISRO?

There is a clearly laid out plan of three launchings ahead and the unit has been working on the propulsion road map since last one year. LPSC, ISRO has proudly completed thirty years and was behind the successful Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan. It is planning to extend it to Chandrayaan II with revised features. Chandrayaan II will be constituting of two models- An orbital model to revolve around moon and the other one to land on the surface slowly.

The Propulsion centre is working to reduce the weight by 4 to 5 kgs using liquid oxygen propulsion which will have a drastic impact on the efficiency. We can expect this to launch within 2.5 years.

LPSC will also be working extensively on space crafts. Space Scientists say that 60% of a craft’s weight is due to the propulsion system. However, if this is replaced by an electric propulsion system, this payload can decrease drastically. The mass can be brought down effectively and can be instead used to accommodate more useful payload. The Propulsion units are also keen on working on green propulsion systems.

They have submitted the reports for the same and are waiting for discussions on the same. Very few counties have actually materialised this plan and India hopes to be one of the first in the same. ISRO scientists do not want to be left behind when it comes to ambitious projects like Human Space Sending missions.Dr. Narayanan hasn’t got an approval for the same but wants to keep his team ready for whenever the Center shows him green flag.

Setting a pace with NASA

ISRO is running its own race and getting better with each launch and paper. Our space curators started it off as late as 1963. Dr. Narayanan smiles and recalls the morning of 24th November, 1963 when they launched a rocket imported from US and used the payload imported from France.

During 1967, Russia had already successfully sent a man to space and both US and USSR were furiously working towards sending a man to moon. India, however, during this time had just gotten out from the post independence tremors and rifts. Our country was in chaos and in dire need of basic amenities like fooding and clothing. We lacked basic health and education facilities.

Dr. Narayanan recalls his colleagues calling it a ‘Bullock Cart and Bicycle’ era. We were effectively 50 years behind these countries and transported rockets on carts and cycles. NASA and ISRO started off with completely different missions and on different grounds. Looking back, we’ve actively worked to bridge this gap and are accelerating at a faster rate. Chandrayaan was the first one of it’s kind to discover water molecules on the surface of the moon. The PM used to joke around that our Mangalyaan, despite being a maiden attempt, was successful at a cost lower than an auto fare.

ISRO has launched more than a hundred of satellites and quite ironically, American media has reported this far more than our media.

The inspiration

ISRO was denied technology by a lot of countries in its initial years and now when we look back, it all contributed in strengthening us. We created it all from the very beginning and marked it all with our tricolor. We’ve owned the pride of making our own technologies and building up on them. ISRO has always been clear about what it’s initial ideals were.

It has constantly strived towards improving communication facilities, television services, weather forecasts and navigation for India. Dr. Narayanan laughs saying that we’ll probably release this if our satellites were shut out for thirty minutes. The government, Dr. Narayanan says, has been extremely helpful in all of it. Almost all the political parties realise the importance of such a prestigious institution in India and have supported throughout.

The key to having a very productive research in all the institutes across India is a clear set of goals. ISRO has them clear- 18 launches per year and it is prepared to do whatever it takes to move toward that.We need to create this system so that we get results. Research should not be restricted to cupboards rather it should come out of the doors and light up the houses of the poor. Our research should touch lives and it will be only then when we can boast about taking mankind a step forward.