India SciTech

ISRO was in news more due to leadership deficit in 2019

Lalit Shastri

ISRO remained in news during the later part of 2019 more due to deficit of ISRO leadership and its credibility than the failure to soft-land Lander Vikram on Moon.

ISRO has an endless list of achievements that the whole nation and the scientific community, cutting across national boundaries, should be proud of but there are streaks of irregularities, rat-race for personal and short term gains and self-aggrandisement, lack of necessary commitment and will to further the national goals that has caused not only immense harm to the space research organisation but also forced the country to bear with a situation that’s immensely frustrating at least for those who know what’s happening and cannot be taken for a ride. After the Chandrayaan-2 failure, a lot is being talked about Chandrayaan-3. Question arises: Is chandrayan3 a priority or just a matter of ego satisfaction. There are huge gaps in remote sensing and communication satellites. Who is going to fill them. With the advantage of hindsight, one knows how quality assurance had been compromised to increase launch frequency and why GSAT-6A mission had ended in failure in the first half of 2018. Two days after India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F08) had launched GSAT-6A Satellite into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on March 29, 2018, the the whole world knew that contact with the powerful communications satellite designed to improve communication for Defence forces had been lost. The satellite (GSAT-6A) was for military communication at border and remote areas using hand held terminals. The same frequency was originally contracted to Devas. It is rather unfortunate that ISRO was bartering surreptitiously such an important satellite frequency and orbital slot to Devas.

It is important to talk of GSAT 11  launched in  2018 after so much noise, and it is yet to see operation. It is supposed to bring high throughput communication satellite (HTS) services in the country. There is a conflict in frequency band allocation in 26 GHzHz band between 5G operators and HTS GSAT 20, to be launched next year. If the band is allocated to 5G operators, it will lead to detoxifying GSAT 20 with huge implications in schedule and unnecessary expenditure. This avoidable confusion is due to callousness of ISRO in coordinating with Government agencies.

In the remote sensing front, there is no word about operationalisation of RISAT 2B series radar imaging satellites. There is no word about the fate of performance of much touted Cartosat 3A satellite. Grapevine indicates unacceptable performance. The performance audit of ISRO’s payloads and satellites is needed by an independent agency.

Between 2009 and 2019 India has spent over Rs. 4000 crore on a series of navigation satellites (NavIC). One failed and a replacement had a launch failure. These satellites have a short life span. The much touted desi GPS has nothing on the ground – neither in terms of civil or military applications and use. The crux of the problem is that ISRO went full steam ahead and started launching the satellites in the Indian navigation system in quick succession, without bothering to ensure the chip sets required for ground support were also developed simultaneously to roll out the services that could be availed on mobile handsets just like the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) are fully operational GNSSs, with China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) and the European Union’s Galileo. This is not merely a lapse but has led to criminal waste of public money. Those responsible will have to be identified and held accountable.

Planetary missions like aditya L1 are delayed. Such delays are leading to waste of resources and wrong priorities. Aditya – L1 will be the first Indian mission to study the Sun. The Aditya-1 mission was conceived as a 400kg class satellite carrying one payload, the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC) and was planned to launch in a 800 km low earth orbit. ISRO has conveyed that a Satellite placed in the halo orbit around the Lagrangian point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any occultation/ eclipses. Therefore, the Aditya-1 mission has now been revised to “Aditya-L1 mission” and will be inserted in a halo orbit around the L1, which is 1.5 million km from the Earth. The project has been approved and the satellite will be launched during 2019 – 2020 time-frame by PSLV-XL from Sriharikota. The issue here is why the basic point regarding the “halo orbit” was missing when Aditya-1 was planned…..what was the hurry at that stage.

Now coming to priorities, instead of Chnadrayaan-3, why not create the stage for domestic initiative to compete with the USA’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s BDS. ISRO authorities may come forward and claim that initiative is being taken in this direction but that would not help in holding accountable those responsible for the gaps in remote sensing and communication satellites, especially failure to equip the ground facilities linked with the communication satellites.

There also has been an attempt to offer Ka-band services without auction by ISRO. When this matter was taken up by Newsroom24x7 the whole process of doling out the Ka-band Service that smacked of paving the way for “backdoor entry” came to a screeching halt.

Coming to the issue of leadership, one would like to sign off by citing verbatim from one of my earlier news coverage. I wrote: “What prevents ISRO from seeking a Cabinet sanction for a number of Apex scale posts and promoting all their Center Directors to that scale and then making a fair and equal selection for the post of Chairman? Accelerated pushes are taken care of in the Merit Promotion Scheme in place which rewards outstanding contributions through a process of peer reviews. To manipulate it at the top reeks of favoritism, nepotism and a subversion of laid down procedures.” More info

The most read Newsroom24x7 story in 2019 wasSave ISRO: Nation cannot remain Mute Spectator

ISRO remained in news during the later part of 2019 more due to deficit of ISRO leadership and its credibility than the failure to soft-land Lander Vikram on Moon.

Stories on ISRO were read the maximum in 2019

Newsroom24x7 – Round up 2019

Year at a Glance: Newsroom24x7 maintained a huge Global following

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