Space Research has been an arena dominated mainly by US, Russia, and ESA. But steadily carving its name in this elite league is our very own ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). Its progress is for everyone to see. During the last 4 years, ISRO’s development under Modi has been massive and there are several achievements for every Indian to be proud of. The new addition to the list is the announcement and approval of Rs. 10,000 crores for India’s first manned mission to space, Gaganyaan, in 2022
How has ISRO fared under Modi Government?
In its first major decision regarding space science in 2014, Government allocated a budget of 6000 crores, which was a 50% jump from 2013’s allocation of 4000 crores. PM Modi, in several of his speeches, has highlighted the importance of Space Science. Accordingly, his cabinet has increased ISRO’s funding every subsequent year with 2018’s allocation standing at Rs. 108 billion for Department of Space. This increase in funding has led to a number of significant achievements.
- ISRO successfully completed 45+ missions from 2014-18.
- The Scramjet technology has been tested.
- RESOURCESAT-2A, with a three-tier imaging system, for natural resource monitoring was launched.
- SCATSAT, for advanced cyclone tracking and ocean studies, launched successfully.
- Developed an indigenous capability of launching 2-ton satellites with next-generation GSLV MK-III. It will reduce foreign dependency for launch.
- Between 2014-17, 145 satellites have been launched by PSLV for 13 countries.
- Mars Orbiter mission ‘Mangalyaan’ has completed three and a half years in orbit and continues to function normally.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. India created history on 15 February 2017 by sending a record number of 104 satellites by PSLV-C37 in a single mission. While only 3 were of India, USA had 96 satellites while Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan, UAE had 1 each. We broke the record of Russia which sent 37 satellites in 2014.
South Asian Satellite (GSAT 9), ‘A gift to South Asia’ By PM Modi was launched in May ’17 aboard GSLV-F09 that carried indigenously developed cryogenic upper stage. With 17 Indian satellites already circling the planet, in July ‘17 ISRO launched 18th communication satellite, GSAT-17, to join the fleet. It has been designed to have an operational lifespan of about 15 years.
2018 started with a bang (pun intended) for ISRO as it successfully launched its 100th mission with PSLV-C40. It carried a total of 31 satellites of 6 other countries. It was followed by the launch of GSAT-6A, a high power S-Band communication satellite with a key aim of improving on mobile communications. Unfortunately, ISRO lost communication with the satellite soon after its launch and its still ‘missing’. Not losing focus, ISRO continued with GSAT-29 followed by ISRO’s heaviest satellite till date, GSAT-11. This was launched from Kourou on December 5.
How have these missions been fruitful to the general public?
By launching the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System with an operational name NavIC, we now have our own indigenously developed satellite navigation system to provide accurate real-time positioning and timing services over India and region extending to 1500 km around India. The GSLV MK-III aims to assist with mobile communications and Search & Rescue operations.
PM Modi conforms to the view of ISRO, its motto being ‘मानव जाति की सेवा में अंतरिक्ष प्रौद्योगिकी’. It translates to ‘Space technology in the service of Humankind’. With this phrase in mind, ISRO, through its missions has been making strides in realizing the vision of PM Modi and the leaders before him. The Organization not only fulfills the basic intent of communication but also assist in Earth Observation and Disaster Management Support. A number of activities are covered under these broad categories.
‘The hallmark of Indian space programme is the application-oriented focus and the benefits that have accrued to the country through these programmes. The societal services offered by Earth Observation, SATCOM and the recent NavIC constellation of satellites in various areas of national development, including tele-education and telemedicine, are standing examples of applications-oriented space programme of India’.(ISRO)
Application of Earth Observation Satellites includes assistance in areas like agriculture and soils, Renewable Energy, Ocean Science, Urban Development, Governance to name a few.
Floods, Landslides, Cyclones are some of the common calamities faced by our country. The Disaster Management Support Programme of ISRO is engaged in monitoring such situations on a real-time basis so that important information and updates are continuously available to the concerned authorities. This has helped on a number of occasions especially during the recent Kerala Floods where flood maps were provided to the officials along with other critical information that helped with the search & rescue mission.
A key finding of ISRO has also helped in bringing the ‘Saraswati’ river debate in domain again. Its research has suggested that the Vedic river might have actually existed and its drying up could have led to the ending of Harappan civilization. This has somewhat put an end to Saraswati being called a mythical river.
Gaganyaan-Vajpayee’s dream, Modi’s endeavor
Chandrayaan-2 is expected to be launched this year. ISRO is also working on a semi-cryogenic project that can carry payloads of up to 60 tonnes. But the most ambitious project is the Gaganyaan, announced by PM Modi on Independence Day last year. By 2022 we aim to be only the 4th country after US, Russia, and China to send a man into space.
The mission is expected to last 7 days and the spacecraft will be placed in a low earth orbit of 300-400 km. Two unmanned Gaganyaan missions are also planned before the final mission. With 10,000 crores already sanctioned, the space suit to be worn by the astronauts was displayed in Bengaluru in September signals the beginning of preparations for the mission. The icing on the cake is that this mission would be led by a woman! Dr. V R Lalithambika.
A tough road ahead
While ISRO has been very successful with almost each of its mission fulfilling its objective, there are a few stumbling blocks holding it back. ISRO, though a public-sector entity, is cautious of the growing demands of the arena and the need to integrate better technology and private players. Mangalyaan mission is an example of how using limited financial resources and technology, we’ve succeeded in setting an example. However, the current times demand better technology and not every programme might work on this budget. The need is thus to walk alongside the big players, albeit conforming to its own ethos.
We still lack a comprehensive space policy. What we possess is sector-specific policies that cater to the needs of individual entities. A more holistic approach is needed to further improve this organization. We also require a space programme that is in line with the arena of warfare and national defense. The current global security problems are dealt with mainly within the various strategic organizations. Guns are being replaced by satellites and global warfare is evolving at a breakneck pace. India, now a global power, shouldn’t lack behind and thus an efficient policy in this regard is necessary.
ISRO has made every Indian proud through its achievements. Despite its shortcomings, its progress has been followed by the west with an envious eye. One can only imagine how we’d fare if we overcome our few albeit serious pitfalls. And given the efforts of the current government, the day is not far where ISRO’s name would be taken in the same breath as NASA. Or Space X!
From Aryabhatta to Gaganyaan, ISRO has developed and come a long way. And we still have a long way to go.