ISRO at Its Pinnacle During its Golden Jubilee Year

With five years to Mangalyaan, the launch of Chandrayaan-2, initiation of NETRA and much more, the 50th year of ISRO has been a vital year in the space agency’s journey

Issue: 10 / 2019By Ayushee ChaudharyPhoto(s): By ISRO

India’s space agency has been a symbol of constant perseverance followed by growth through its many space scientific undertakings. Every year, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has tried to expand the limits of its own space expeditions. While the space agency did not go all out in celebrating the 50 years of its establishment that was completed on August 15, 2019, it did commemorate the occasion in its own manner. ISRO might have not had the highest celebratory messages all over the internet about its five decades, but it had a discrete spree through various significant missions and accomplishments that took place for the space agency in its 50th year of coming into existence.

Here are some of the noteworthy feats that ISRO added to its hat in its golden jubilee year:

Five years of MOM: Mangalyaan or the Mars Orbiter Mission of ISRO finished five years of orbiting the red planet, Mars, in September this year. The Mangalyaan mission was initially expected to last only about six months but has surpassed that way back and is likely to continue orbiting Mars for some more time. Launched in November 2013 and placed into Mars’ orbit in September 2014, MOM made India the first nation to be successful to orbit the red planet in its first attempt. MOM was also India’s first interplanetary undertaking. In these five years, MOM has provided ISRO with a Martian Atlas based on the images provided by the orbiter and thousands of other significant pictures of the red planet and even its moons. Mangalyaan’s success was also stated to be cheaper than even the Hollywood movie “Gravity” and much cheaper than NASA’s Maven Orbiter. The Maven Orbiter was similar to India’s Mars mission.

Mission Shakti: A joint venture between ISRO and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Mission Shakti propelled India into an elite league of countries with anti-satellite (A-SAT). PM Modi announced the success of the space defence mission programme in March this year when he declared that India has shot down a low-orbit earth satellite at a height of 300 km from the earth’s surface.

The entire Mission Shakti operation took only about three minutes. The US, Russia, and China already have the A-SAT technology. Launched from the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island launch complex, the test India’s capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space-based on complete indigenous technology. The test needed extreme precision and advanced technical ability.

EMISAT launch: The first electronic surveillance satellite (EMISAT) was put into a 748 km sun-synchronous polar orbit in April this year. ISRO’s PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), which took its 47th flight, also carried 28 other nano satellites from foreign customers along with EMISAT in the mission among which were satellites belonging to the US, Lithuania, Spain, and Switzerland. This first three-orbit mission was also the first one to place solar panels in rocket fourth stage (PS4). Using the multiple-burn technology, the PS4 initiated four times during the mission, this allows the rocket to pursue to the next orbit with payloads. This was even one of the longest missions of PSLV around the Earth.

Chandrayaan-2: On the afternoon of July 22, a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III) rocket lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota carrying India’s ambitious mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2. This is India’s second mission to the moon.

The Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram had attempted to softland on the South Polar region (the unexplored lunar area) of the moon in the wee hours of September 7. However, after completing all complex maneuvers and velocity variations successfully, Vikram lost connection with the mission control centre just minutes before its planned landing leaving the space agency and the nation disappointed. Regardless of the apparent hard landing, the mission remains one of the most ambitious missions of ISRO and is being looked at a 98 per cent success.

NSIL: NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO, was officially inaugurated in Bengaluru in May. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also talked about NSIL’s role in her maiden Budget Speech. Formed with the objective to raise up industry participation, NSIL was inaugurated by ISRO adviser, Dr K. Kasturirangan in the presence of Chairman Dr K. Sivan. However, the Union Government had already set up NSIL, a wholly-owned Government of India undertaking/ Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE), under the administrative control of the Department of Space (DOS) on March 6, 2019, to commercially exploit the research and development work of ISRO Centres and constituent units of DOS The emergence of NSIL is expected to spur the growth of Indian industries in the space sector and enable them to scale up manufacturing and production base.

NETRA: ISRO also quietly initiated the Project NETRA (Network for space object Tracking and Analysis) in September while the attention was still around Chandrayaan-2. NETRA is an early warning system in space to detect debris and other hazards to Indian satellites. NETRA’s eventual goal is to capture the GEO, or geostationary orbit, the scene at 36,000 km where communication satellites operate. When positioned, NETRA will make the nation self-capable of space situational awareness (SSA). Under NETRA, the Indian space agency also plans to place several observational facilities like connected radars, telescopes, data processing units, and a control centre.