24 September 2019
Chennai: Contradictory views were voiced out by space experts in India on the country's space agency's Mission 2.0 following the failure of the moon landing mission earlier this month.
Should the Indian space agency rearrange its priorities was the question posed.
While one view is that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) should first get its rockets at par with other space agencies to loft its own as well as foreign satellites, and then look at inter-planetary missions, that too on international cooperation basis.
Space experts also stressed that the ISRO should thoroughly check all the systems of its crew module without leaving anything to doubt with regard to its proposed manned mission Gaganyaan.
The manned mission is planned to be realised by 2021.
Conversely, some experts have also said ISRO as a national space agency has to look at scientific missions like interplanetary ones and cannot be restricted to being just a satellite launch organisation.
"Indian space programme is now on mission 2.0 mode with programmes like human space mission, inter-planetary missions, setting up space stations, even while trying to catch up with other countries is incidental," K. Sivan, Chairman, ISRO, had told IANS earlier.
"All these years, we've had the vision of Vikram Sarabhai of using the space technology for the benefit of the common man and harnessing space technology for the nation's development," he said.
According to him, the country has developed the capability to build its own rockets and satellites and render services to the common man like the communication, climate prediction and others.
"We are now reaping the harvest of the seeds sown by Sarabhai. Now, we have to provide and sow the seeds for the future generation. This is vision/mission 2.0. And catching up with other advanced space faring nations is incidental," Sivan had said.
"ISRO should first get its rockets at par with other space agencies by developing semi-cryogenic engine which would cut down the launch costs," a retired senior official of ISRO told IANS preferring anonymity.
"Further, the reliability of India's heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle - Mark III (GSLV Mk III) is to be established to attract commercial launch contracts. Its lifting capacity should also be doubled to eight tonne," he added.
While agreeing that ISRO has put into orbit different kinds of satellites - communication, remote sensing, navigation and others- experts also point out the navigation satellite system - NavIC - might face trouble with the functioning of the rubidium atomic clocks.
The clocks are important to provide precise locational data.
Three atomic clocks in the first navigation satellite IRNSS-1A have already failed.
"ISRO had said it would look at indigenous development of atomic clocks. But nothing much is known about it now. The continuation of the NavIC system is important as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has reportedly given its approval for NavIC. The approval is expected to increase the commercial use of NavIC," the expert added.
He also said there is not much of an information on expanding the NavIC satellite constellation from the present eight to 11.
"It is not just ISRO that faced problem with the atomic clock. Even the European navigation system Galileo had faced the same problem," Ajey Lele, Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, told IANS.
According to an expert preferring anonymity, India should look at inter-planetary missions only on cooperation basis with other nations so that costs could be shared.
"Once success comes, all other issues are forgotten or put under the mat," he added.
Coming to the proposed Rs 10,000 crore manned mission - Gaganyaan- a retired official wondered its purpose.
"What is the level of redundancy in the crew module? Further, even it takes more time, ISRO should be 200 per cent sure about the crew module and should not go ahead to meet a target date," he said.
Responding to that, another retired senior ISRO official told IANS: "Before putting a man into a spacecraft, there will be unmanned missions to check all the parameters and our people must have planned like that."
"In Gaganyaan mission, there should not be short cuts to meet schedules and even minor doubts should not be skipped," he added.
He, however, agreed that ISRO management should not be obsessed with meeting the schedule at the risk of overlooking even minor aspect.
"There is excessive emphasis on schedule and `yes boss' culture in the Indian space agency. These two needs to be corrected," he added.
According to him, the ISRO top management should not get swayed by the media publicity and act professional by putting out information that gives the public the right perspective and where ISRO stands vis-a-vis other space faring nations.
"If ISRO finds something amiss then it will postpone the mission. This has happened earlier and even during the Chandrayaan-2 mission. The space agency postponed the GSLV rocket launch date after it found an issue with the vehicle," Lele said.
"While India has notched up some credible performance in the space sector, ISRO officials should correct the media when they say the Indian space agency is the numero uno in the field," the retired ISRO official said.
"For instance, other nations had successfully completed moon landing mission several years back. Further India's launch vehicle capacity is not big. Putting into orbit multiple satellites in a same orbit is not a major deal as the luggage weight is well within the carrying capacity of the Indian rocket," another ISRO official told IANS preferring anonymity.
On inter-planetary mission, a retired senior official said: "ISRO is India's national space agency and not just a satellite launching company. So, its aims and missions will be much more broader than a rocket company."
Continuing further, he said: "Hence, ISRO will have to look at scientific missions like inter-planetary missions. If India has the capability then it should embark on major missions so that it can contribute to the collective knowledge and also for the collective benefit of the humanity at large."
According to him, international cooperation for inter-planetary missions will come only when other nations feel that they would also benefit from that mission.
"International cooperation will not be at our demand but only on mutual interest."
Agreeing with him, Lele said India invested in science - space and others - long back since it was a poor country and science investment was one way to eradicate poverty.
Lele said some benefits of science investments are visible and some may not be visible, adding the Chandrayaan-2 must have happened soon after the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 and not a decade a later.