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Tapan Misra’s story and “Mission Mangal”: From Real Life to Reel Life

A scene from Mission Mangal

Tapan Misra narrates, in first person, the story of dedication of very large number of faceless, unassuming ISROites.

At a time when the entire world’s focus is on “Mission Chandrayaan 2” , people are also talking about the Akshay Kumar starrer popular film “Mission Mangal”. The story and plot of this film is inspired by the dedication and hard work of ISRO scientists. Tapan Misra’s narrative says it all.

No seed ever sees the flower – Zen saying

Today (2 September 2019) was a remarkable day – Chandrayan 2 reached its 100 km orbit and lander Vikram got separated. From science point of view, I consider orbiter major contributor. I have reasonable confidence that lander will land. It is like controlling a satellite in the presence of one sixth of g force on moon. In fact controlling a satellite under a defined force field is easier than in free space. Further there is virtually no atmosphere, which plays a spoilsport in landing on earth.

I fondly remember the instruments provided by Space Applications Centre
(SAC), almost two to three years back, during my tenure. I played a personal role in building L and S band SAR (synthetic aperture radar). I remember in 2010, Prof. U R Rao told me that just 14 kg allocation is available and I should choose single or dual band SAR. As foolish I am, I chose dual frequency one as it will help us make accurate estimate of water in polar craters. Anybody who knows SAR, can realise that this commitment was really foolish as the task of miniaturization was unfathomed. But my colleagues made it possible within 16 kg, which I think is a record achievement. This dual frequency SAR was inspiration behind L and S band NASA ISRO SAR (NISAR) to answer the question: Why moon only, why not earth?

Another instrument we are proud of delivering ; Imaging IR Spectrometer (IIRS). Its hyperspectral optics including grating is made in India, for the first time, from Aluminium and at a fraction of cost in international market. It’s enclosure is digitally printed. It’s spectral resolution of better than 20 nano meter is enviable. Its siblings are flying in Hysis satellite. Even its near IR detector is designed by my SAC colleagues and manufactured in SCL. No mean feat!

Even the stalllwarts in the field did not feel that such a payload can be made in India. Even JPL made M3 in Chandrayaan was limited to 2.5 micron wavelength and we were aiming double the figure. I called the engineers and scientists in a meeting in 2015 and asked who can take risk in career by attempting to design this payload. One lady raised her hands first. I made her leader. And those even dared raise hand half way through or even a finger were made members. And rest is history.

I have a great satisfaction about SAC’s Orbiter High Resolution camera, at 0.3 m resolution. Probably it is one of the highest resolution cameras ever flown on lunar orbiter. Though its main task is to locate suitable landing site and generate guiding maps for our lander, I pray our scientists make better use of this gem of a sensor.

Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC 2) is the repeat of TMC 1 in Chandrayaan 1 but with improved optics and half the mass. With its three view stereoscopic imaging capability, it will help us complete our unfinished agenda of building Made in India 3D topography map of lunar surface.

I am proud of millimetre wave Altimeter, whose every RF chip is designed in SAC. It will guide the lander to feather light landing. It is a design master piece. Whenever I used to visit the lab, I used to get inspired by a husband-wife couple team member. Husband was having very serious kidney ailment, waiting for transplant. But still, even in this personal tragedy, this young couple played a seminal role in the team, building this altimeter.

It gives me immense satisfaction that SAC team built the central computing hardware of lander and also it’s crater matching algorithm.

I miss, in this moment of glory, my friend Sri M Annadurai who superannuated last year. From his experience of guiding Chandrayan 1, he made his mark in defining the mission and bringing it to conclusion in early 2018, well before he superannuated. In fact my smooth personal equation helped us in configuring Chandrayan 2 with very contrasting demands from satellites and payloads.

I have great regards for my friend Nagesh, who as Project Director guided the programme in its difficult times and brought out a marvel. Today’s smooth insertion of Chandrayan 2 in lunar orbit owes to mastery of mission management and orbit control algorithm and strategy developed during Chandrayan 1 under the guidance of Srinivasa Hegde, who has long retired.

Any programme in ISRO , including Chandrayaan 2, is possible due to dedication of very large number of faceless, unassuming ISROites. They include not just engineers or scientists but our fabrication and facility and quality specialists, ever helping administrative and maintenance staff, no less dedicated contract engineers, contract support staff and above all gardeners who build picturesque environs for us to work. And during the course of execution, some of them retire and fade into oblivion. No single individual can make things happen, unlike in films. ISRO is ISRO because of ISROites, not the other way around.

Tapan Misra

Tapan Misra received Vikram Sarabhai Research Award in 2004 and ISRO Merit award in 2008 for his contribution of development of SAR technology. He was elected as Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering in 2007. He was elected Corresponding Member of International Academy of Astronautics in 2008. He holds two granted patents, six pending patents. He has five copyrights and more than twenty five papers to his credit .

He started his career as digital software engineer and involved in Microwave Remote Sensing payloads in SAC. He managed system engineering of Multi-frequency Scanning Microwave Radiometer (MSMR) payload for IRS-P4 during 1995-1999.

He was involved in design for the development of C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) of the RISAT-1. He wrote an algorithm for real-time processing of SAR data during his stint as a guest scientist in the German Aerospace Agency in 1990. He was also associated with development of the multi-frequency scanning microwave radiometer instrument of Oceansat-1 and Scanning Scatterometer of Oceansat-2. He served as the deputy director of microwave remote sensing area of Space Applications Centre before being appointed as the director in February 2015.He also heads the Office of Innovations Management, ISRO, Bangalore.For a brief period he had additional charge of Director, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

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4 Comments »

  1. Tapan Misra Sir…MSMR, RISAT-1…brings back wonderful memories of numerous nights spent at SAC campus with only 1 PC-XT and DOS/Windows for Workgroup as OS…😂😂
    These films don’t even cover even 1% of the effort being put behind every project by so many people behind the scene and also work becomes even more challenging with so many govt processes involved & all the bureaucratic stuff to take care of…😂
    Still SAC is one of the most wonderful govt organization to work with unparallel freedom given to the Scientists to express themselves, even juniors/freshers are given due respect….I have not seen any other govt organization where Group Directors and Deputy Directors will sit and work besides a newcomer at midnight making sure everything goes well….
    My working tenure of 1998-2004 was a truly GOLDEN PERIOD which never gets out of my memory even if so many years have passed…
    Super proud to be an ex-ISROite and to have worked with you & other fabulous people at SAC…🙏🙏
    More power to ISRO & ISROites and hope they will continue to make us feel proud no matter where we are in the world…..
    Jai Hind…!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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