Coronavirus Grounded Indian Space Sector In First Half Of 2021

By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, July 4 : A successful commercial launch, charting the decadal plan, coming out with a draft policy to allow private players, transferring medical equipment technologies was how the government owned space sector closed the Covid-19 affected first half of 2021.

 Coronavirus Grounded Indian Space Sector In First Half Of

On their part, the private sector players raised funds, got components manufactured overseas, designed rockets and satellites from home.

“We began the year with the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that placed into orbit 19 satellites including Brazil’s earth observation satellite Amazonia-1,” K.Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space (DOS) told IANS.

“We had initiated various activities relating to India’s human space mission Gaganyaan to test fly the first unmanned human rated Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mk III (GSLV-Mk III),” Sivan who is also the Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) added.

Steps towards space sector reforms by bringing in new policies were also afoot during the period under review.

But the Covid-19 pandemic which had crippled majority of ISRO’s space activities in 2020 continued its impact on the space agency’s core activity in 2021 as well.

“Nevertheless, we did not keep quiet as officials worked from their homes.The time was utilised to come out with draft policies to usher in the private players,” Sivan added.

The design and augmentation activity relating to Gaganyaan project were completed while some of the components for the rocket were supplied by the industry.

According to Sivan, the activities that had to be done in labs were not done due to Covid-19 lockdown.

While the DOS had recently come out with the Draft National Space Transportation Policy-2020, Sivan said a committee is going into the provisions of the Space Activities Bill and legal consultations are on to finalise it.

Last year the government came out with Draft Space Based Communication Policy of India 2020 (Spacecom Policy-2020), Draft Space Based Remote Sensing Policy and Revised Technology Transfer Policy Guidelines.

Stepping into 2021, ISRO had said its decadal plan includes development of a heavy lift rocket, reusable satellite launch vehicle, semi-cryogenic engine, developmental flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and others.

The Indo-US collaborative NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) Mission moved ahead with the Indian space agency sending the S-Band SAR payload.

The Indian space agency also started supplying oxygen to Southern States to meet the oxygen shortage for the treatment of the Covid-19 patients.

As regards the private players, the rocket makers, Skyroot Aerospace and Agnikul Cosmos, announced raising $11 million each.

The Bengaluru-based satellite maker Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd, commonly known as Pixxel, had to postpone its first satellite launch slated early this year by the PSLV rocket owing to a software glitch.

“The lockdown and coronavirus has impacted our operations and put our plans behind by a year.But learning from the first wave, we developed backups,” Awais Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, Syzygy Space Technologies, told IANS.

While Syzygy Space’s engineers are upgrading the satellite designs working from home, Ahmed said with Europe opening up, the company is getting some of the components manufactured there.

“As things stand and if the Covid-19 situation improves, we hope to orbit our two satellites between October and December this year, one by ISRO and the second one by the US-based SpaceX,” Ahmed added.

Looking at the next six months, Sivan said if the Covid-19 pandemic subsides then the first task will be to launch India’s first Geo Imaging Satellite (GISAT-1).

Queried about launching the satellite using foreign rockets like Ariane of Arianespace as there is an opportunity cost involved with a fully built satellite on the ground, Sivan said: “Only China and the US are launching rockets.Others are not.Anyway we have our own rocket to launch.”

Sivan also said a couple of earth observation satellites are also to be launched.

On realising the small rocket SSLV, Sivan said its solid fuel motor will soon be tested.

The first test was unsuccessful as there were some issues with the engine’s nozzle.

The second test will be done with the engine that was kept for the rocket.

A new first stage engine for the rocket has to be built.

The other two stages/engines for the proposed SSLV have been tested earlier, an ISRO official had told IANS.

The work is also going on to constitute a full fledged Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), the regulatory body for the private sector players.

The initial plan was to draw officials from within to man IN-SPACe but later it was decided to look outside ISRO/DOS.

On the policy front, Sivan said a new navigation policy and others are expected to be announced.

According to him, DOS’ commercial arm, NewSpace India Ltd, apart from buying satellites made by ISRO can also lease assets from the latter.

“NSIL will acquire three communication satellites — GSAT 20, GSAT 22 and GSAT 24 — made by ISRO.The company will be the owner and operator of the satellites,” Sivan said.

Queried about transferring ISRO’s other satellites to NSIL, Sivan said: “We are thinking about asset transfer on lease basis.Plans are there.”

Other developments

ISRO demonstrated free-space Quantum Communication over a distance of 300 metre with several technologies developed within the country.

The four Indian astronauts returned to India last month after completing their training in Russia and will undergo different kinds of training in India.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected]