Sunday, March 27, 2011

A loaded address to the Indian space community by the PM

       It is not one of those speeches praising the present achievements, recalling the string of successes in the past and paying the usual tributes to India's space leaders.

       It is a speech which one cannot afford to ignore. It is what one may call  a refreshingly loaded one, delivering a strong message to the Indian space community. While offering the usual bouquet of praises, the PM has literally given a ``wake up'' call too, plotting the Indian space programme's future trajectory. .

       On Saturday evening  (March 26, 2011), Singh addressed the space fraternity at the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre where he made a number of important points which need to be analysed.

       One of the first aspects was the PM's reference to the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) project. Though in just a single sentence he said: ``We should pay greater attention to the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle programme,'' who can deny that is not filled with with significance? .

       Why? His remark has to be seen in the context of two GSLV failures---one on April 15,2010 because of the malfunction of the Indian cryogenic engine and second one on December 25,2010 which was the result of a major technical snag..In the first case, it was the maiden flight of the GSLV with a India-made cryogenic engine which zoomed towards the sea instead of the sky!  Against this background it is clear that Singh's statement clearly reflects his concern about the problem-ridden GSLV project on which depends the future of India's second mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' --a joint Indo-Russian venture--tentatively slated for lift off in 2013.

        What better proof of Singh's concern than a another statement at the end of his speech where he says: ``There have been aberrations and setbacks in the space programme in the recent past. These are being dealt with in accordance with laid down procedures. It is however important that you work with renewed dedication, sincerity and zeal to fulfill the high expectations we have from our space programme.'' Read the words ``renewed dedication, sincerity and zeal to full the high expectations we have from our space programme.'' and draw your conclusions.

        Quite a strong message from none other than the PM himself considering that he holds the reign of the space portfolio along with the nuclear sector. The report of the GSLV programme should have been finalised by the end of the February according to an earlier Isro announcement. But, to date there is no word about it and there is no indication as to when one can expect it either.

        But, it was not just criticism. There was another side to his speech which made the space scientists happy on this Saturday evening. While expressing anxiety about the GSLV programme, he praised the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project. He said: ``The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle has had sixteen successful flights and put forty satellites in orbit, twenty five of which belong to foreign parties.''  Good, but not a word about the repeated postponement of the PSLV which was to have taken off with Resourcesat-2, Youthsat and X-Sat of Singapore, on April 10, 2011. The current indications suggest that the launch will take place sometime towards the end of April.

       Plotting the future trajectory for Isro, he said: ``It, is therefore necessary that we work towards reducing the cost of access to space. This requires expediting the development of heavy lift boosters --(a referance to the GSLV Mark 3 programme which can fly communication satellites weighing four tonnes), advanced propulsion systems including the cryogenic stage and recoverable and reusable launch systems.''

      This is a significant statement because over the years Isro has been repeatedly talking about the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) project and mentioning dates when it will fly. But, these dates just come and go without any sign of the RLV launch. What is more, the PM has made no reference to the second flight of the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE) which according to original plans should have flown nearly a year-and-a-half ago. The SRE has been described as trial run of the RLV. The first SRE flight in January 2007 was a thumping success and India was the first nation to execute the tough mission successfully in the first shot itself earning it the title as India's brand ambassador at the international economic summit at Davos which was in progress at that time.

     Singh said: ``I believe it is important for Isro to concentrate its resources and evolve a perspective plan for its future development that is based on clearly defined objectives and benefits (Does this not remind you of Kennedy"s historical address on May 25,1961) when he declared ``I believe that this nation should put a man on the moon!!!!!!), ''

     Focussing on a possible future vision for Isro he said: ``The role of space-based observation systems, development of newer class of environment and monitoring systems and study of weather-related phenomena assume great importance in this regard.''  According to him, tele education, tele medicine and Village Resrouce Centre services deserve high priority. Why did he not say that the Edusat satellite was deactivated much earlier than its scheduled date?  Will Isro now plan Edusat-2? .

     All in all a very important speech which according to ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' (BMM) almost sounds like a wake up call for Isro.

     But, there one thing which struck BMM.

     Why no mention of Chandrayaan-2. This is surprising because a number of payloads for this flight are being dessigned and developed at the Space Applications Centre.

     Again, why no mention of India's Human Space Flight project. Surprising, because it is the 50th year of the world's first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin. Has the Indian project been given a quite burial?

     Who will answer these questions?


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