Hyderabad: A new year, a new Chairman and an aggressive ‘Plan of Action’, is what is scheduled for India’s space odyssey in 2022.
February 14, popular as Valentine’s Day will see the maiden flight of the year for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLVC52) will attempt to put into orbit the Earth Observation Satellite (EOS-04), from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
The ISRO will be eager to put behind its comparatively ‘dismal’ performance in 2021. Its new Chairman, Dr S Somnath, who took over on January 14 from Dr K Sivan, has his job cut out. Basically, a ‘Rocketry and launch vehicle’, specialist, he was quick to announce an ambitious plan for 2022, which includes, the Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan programmes.
A combination of the impact of Pandemic, mission failures and consolidation activities of various technologies has slowed down the launches, mega programmes like Gaganyaan (Human in Space) etc. and the pace of activities at the ISRO in the past two years.
The Minister for Science & Technology, Dr Jitendra Singh, while agreeing to the delays and impact of the pandemic said in Parliament that the Space Agency will undertake 19 missions during 2022. These will include 8 launch vehicle missions, 7 spacecraft missions and 4 technology demonstration missions.
He said, with the unlocking of space sector reforms, the Department of Space will review the future requirements of satellites based on the demand driven model. There is also good response from the private sector and startups to participate in projects as well as drive future commercial developments.
The PSLV-C52 is designed to orbit the EOS-04 satellite, weighing 1710 kg into a sun synchronous polar orbit of 529 km. It is a Radar Imaging Satellite designed to provide high quality images under all weather conditions for applications such as Agriculture, Forestry & Plantations, Soil Moisture & Hydrology and Flood mapping.
The mission will also carry two small satellites as co-passengers. One will be a student satellite (INSPIREsat-1) from Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology (IIST) in association with Laboratory of Atmospheric & Space Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder. The second will be a technology demonstrator satellite (INS-2TD) from ISRO, which is a precursor to India-Bhutan Joint Satellite (INS-2B).
The February 14 launch comes after the failure to launch the EOS-03 in August 2021 due to the third stage cryogenic failure in the GSLV MK3 rocket. The GLSV-F10 rocket launch resulted in not just the loss of an important satellite, but also impacted the big programmes. The net result was the delay of launches and ending 2021 with just two missions of which one was a failure.
To back the plans of the Space Agency, the Union Budget for 2022-23, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has earmarked Rs 13,700 crore. This outlay includes provisions for the Gaganyaan Project (estimated to cost Rs 10,000 crore overall), the Chandrayaan-3 mission, which is slated for a August 2022 launch and the development of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle etc.
In addition to the budget allocation, which some experts believe is low to the ambitious projects in the pipeline and active, the ISRO earns revenues through launch of foreign satellites. It is also hoping increased involvement of the private sector through funds and participation in joint projects or contract projects.
The ISRO has also announced the project Aditya Ll spacecraft to study the solar atmosphere and the expansion of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), a regional navigation satellite system, with a constellation of low earth orbiting satellites.
The Chandrayaan 3 mission will be one of the most eagerly awaited this year as China has gone way ahead by landing on the Moon surface. Similarly several other nations are in the race to the lunar destination. In terms of launches too China is forging far ahead with average 20 launches and building its own Space Station.
India’s Chandrayaan 2 mission in 2019 was a perfect one only to deceive in the final stage of releasing Vikram the lander, which crashed seconds before the completion. The Orbitter, however has been doing well and sending pictures of value. India is also the First Nation to produce evidence of the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface.
As for the Gaganyaan project, which the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was keen to see Indian Cosmonauts flying into space coinciding with the country’s 75th year, experts feel may not fructify. “The ISRO will have to conduct at least two tests on crew abort and escape systems before proceeding to the first uncrewed mission early next year,” said Somnath, the Chief. There has been progress on the cosmonaut training front with the help of the Russians.
Overall, 2022 promises to be a year of action and great strides to be achieved by India. The increasing support of the private sector should also give the efforts a booster dose.
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad