Addressing a webinar organised by UPES, Dr. K. Sivan encouraged students to make India a global technology powerhouse and revealed ISRO’s plans – from India’s first human space mission ‘Gaganyaan’ to eco-friendly propellants and more.
A farmer’s son from a village in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Kailasavadivoo Sivan is the first graduate in his family. He went on to become the Secretary, Department of Space, Government of India, and Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
However, Dr. Sivan never got what he wanted as his first choice.
“After completing school, I wanted to pursue engineering, but my father told me to go for B.Sc. instead. After graduation, I wanted to go for M.Sc., but my professor told me to go to Madras Institute of Technology. Later, I wanted to join U R Rao Satellite Centre, but ended up at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre,” he reminisces with a smile.
In January 2018, Dr. Sivan was appointed as the chief of ISRO.
Over the span of 37 years, he has relentlessly worked in the field of aeronautical engineering, especially in the area of launch vehicle technologies. Recently, Dr. Sivan graced a webinar on the ‘Future of Aerospace and Avionics in India’ organised by UPES, where he elaborated on ISRO’s quest towards an ‘Atmarnirbhar Bharat’, as it marches ahead with new-age space technologies and collaboration with the private sector.
The webinar was moderated by Dr. Sudhir Kumar Chaturvedi, Faculty, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Professor Gurvinder Singh Virk, Dean, School of Engineering.
Dr. Sivan began his address by highlighting the key points of the evolution in aerospace. “From time immemorial, human beings tend to explore new frontiers and extend their capabilities through which society has benefitted and progressed over several centuries. The dream of taking to the sky is one of them and the human passion along with the continuous and often dangerous efforts of achieving flight was rewarded when the Wright Brothers stayed aloft for 12 seconds in 1903. Within a period of 16 years in 1919, the first scheduled air service started operating.”
He added, “India launched the first rocket from its soil six years from the dawn of the Space Age. Since then, there has been steady progress towards new capabilities and self-reliance. ‘Aatmanirbharta’ has always been an integral part of the Indian Space Program considering the strategic value accorded to the space technology by all nations, which often created difficulties in the exchange of technologies. The only way forward is to alleviate the national technology capabilities of the country.”
Today, India has crossed 194 launch vehicles and satellite missions including a few missions to lunar and interplanetary bodies.
There was clear interest among the students as Dr. Sivan was bombarded with questions from the minds curious about the future in space. Excerpts:
Why ‘Aatmanirbharta’ in aerospace?
The global aerospace market is of the order of $342.4 billion and India is the third-largest domestic civil aviation market. India’s share in the global space economy is about $366 billion of which India’s share is around 3%.
This is the reason that the Government of India has introduced a slew of reforms in the space sector allowing private players to tap this market by building launch vehicles, satellites, and infrastructure to launch the satellites from the country.
‘Aatmanirbharta’ in aerospace will accelerate self-reliance in this sector and establish a culture of innovation and quality in this field.
India is a significant power in aerospace. The empowerment of industries and ingenuity of the men and women in India has helped us to realise our current infrastructure from near-zero infrastructure.
How was ‘Aatmanirbharta’ achieved in the critical areas?
Through continuous indigenisation towards combating obsolescence, higher system integration, and miniaturisation at ISRO. Passive, active and all kinds of devices are progressively getting indigenised and inducted. The Lithium-Ion Cells, for example, have been indigenised. This technology is being transferred to Indian industries for production in the commercial phases of large vehicles.
We are putting the seed for making the avionics sector in the country be realised indigenously.
35% of the cost of a typical launch vehicle goes into the materials. Various Aluminium alloys, Titanium alloys, special alloys and steel are used for the hardware. India took the important decision to be self-reliant in managing steel – which is the cast material for the solid boosters in all our launch vehicles – for the early stages of the space program.
We have also partnered with Indian industries and agencies to realise Titanium and Hafnium sponge, which are vital ingredients for aerospace alloys.
Even though we have achieved self-reliance in fabricating composite panels, the nation is yet to indigenise the high strength carbon-fibre materials. However, the Government of India is giving special emphasis to this aspect, considering the application of this material across several domains.
The ‘Gaganyaan’ mission has invigorated all the centres of ISRO as well as the academic and national institutions to work on the long-term and short-term capabilities to achieve self-reliance in the human space program.
In the next decade, we are targeting several capabilities including the heavy-lift launch vehicle, and reusable launch vehicle. To achieve this target, a series of technological demonstrations missions are required.
Where is space flight headed?
Globally, the space sector is witnessing major disruptions. In the future, we are planning to:
• Evolve towards cost-effective partially/fully reusable launch vehicles
• A mix of heavy and autonomous small satellite constellations for earth observation, satellite broadband and climate research
• All-electric satellites
• A shift towards environment-friendly propulsion systems (Semi-Cryo LOX-Methane, Green propellants)
• Small satellite launchers development, mostly by private sector players, some with partial government funding along with the establishment of new launch sites
• New manufacturing paradigms such as 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing leading to the printing of subsystems or even an entire rocket
• Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and drones used for rocket launching as well as stage recovery
• Increasing use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for autonomous decision making and maintenance of aircraft engines
• Near real-time space-based services on cloud platforms and emphasis on cyber-secure platforms
• Commercial exploitation of mineral resources on other planetary bodies
There is a massive opportunity for students and researchers to contribute to the field of aerospace and avionics system and make India a global technology powerhouse.
What is the progress of projects such as ‘Chandrayaan-3’, ‘Mangalyaan-2’ and ‘Gaganyaan’?
The ‘Chandrayaan-3’ program is going on very well. We have identified, understood the deficiencies of ‘Chandrayaan-2’ and taken corrective measures for the next mission, which we are planning for launch within the first half of 2022 when the suitable launch window is available. For ‘Mangalyaan-2’, we are in the process of defining the project.
‘Gaganyaan’ is a complex mission. The design is in the final stages, and project realization has started; all efforts are on for the first unmanned mission trial by this year-end.
How can UPES and ISRO work together in the future?
We have a response program, which is open to all universities. Whatever proposal comes from the university or academia is analysed and considered.
Your journey is an inspiration for every citizen of the country. What would you like to say to UPES students?
When I was working along with my father in the field, I was not thinking about space. I did not even know that I would become an engineer. But I learnt to always give my best to whatever it is that I am doing. You should excel in the area you are working in – whether it is farming or engineering. When you stand out in your field, irrespective of your position, you advance to the next level. I want to get a few C V Ramans from UPES.
One thing I learnt from this journey is that life may not necessarily be what you want. If at every step I would have got what I had wished for, I may not have reached here. As Dalai Lama once said, “Sometimes, not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
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