ISRO is silent about Lander Vikram; Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan are the new focus

Lalit Shastri

ISRO Chairman K Sivan addressed a press meet at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru on 1 January 2019

An official ISRO communiqué, based on a press meet addressed by the chairman of the organisation K Sivan and released by ISRO on Wednesday 1 January, sums up the achievements of India’s Apex Space research organisation during the year 2019 without a word about the Chandrayaan-2 Mission that was supposed to be 98 per cent successful as claimed by the ISRO chief and widely publicised by the media immediately after all contact had been lost with Lander Vikram moments before its scheduled touchdown on the lunar surface on 7 September 2019.

Sivan had lost no time in telling the world that the Lander had been located and efforts were on to re-establish contact with it. ISRO also had announced in black and white that “Vikram lander has been located by the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with lander”.

When NASA released pictures in the first week of December to indicate that the Lander had crashed and broken up into pieces, Sivan again went on record stating that there was nothing new in what NASA had projected since ISRO had located the Lander much earlier. Till now neither Sivan nor his organisation has laid bare before the people of India any proof to establish the basis for this announcement. ISRO  also has failed to show any video of the Lander’s separation from the Orbiter.

A fact that should not be lost track of in this connection is that even the Department of Space press statement projecting the achievements of ISRO during the year 2019 is silent about the Lander and talks only about GSLV-MKIII M1 and the Orbiter.

Matters have reached such a pass that people have started asking if Vikram Lander had even been launched. The best ISRO can do to dispel such doubts, even if they are unnecessary and uncalled for, is that it can release pictures or videos of the Lander’s separation from the Orbiter and also give proof of what formed the basis of the claim by ISRO that the Lander had been located. Any “strategy” on the part of ISRO to hold back evidence would cause irreparable damage to the image and reputation of ISRO’s leadership. The going forward approach is remarkable but it would be an ideal situation only if one doesn’t get the impression that efforts are on to cover up the tracks. The ghost of Devas-Antrix scam and the issue of compensation linked with it already continues to haunt ISRO and also those in knowledgeable circles.

ISRO reported earlier that the Vikram Lander followed the planned descent trajectory from its orbit of 35 km to just below 2 km above the surface. All the systems and sensors of the Lander functioned excellently until this point and proved many new technologies such as variable thrust propulsion technology used in the Lander. The success criteria was defined for each and every phase of the mission till 7 September, and it was claimed that 98% of the mission objectives had been accomplished and would continue to contribute to Lunar science , notwithstanding the loss of communication with the Lander.

Taking at its face value Sivan’s claim in terms of percentage of success vis-a-vis Chandrayaan-2 (At IIT Bhubaneshwar convocation, ISRO chief said that Chandrayaan 2 mission has achieved 98% success), question arises, why ISRO has now chosen to go silent about its achievement when it comes to the variable thrust propulsion technology and the systems and sensors associated with the Lander and also the success linked with its separation from the Orbiter. ISRO’s silence is most intriguing and cannot be ignored. The ISRO leadership will have to be held accountable in this matter.

A Press Meet was organised on January 01, 2020, at ISRO Headquarters, Bengaluru on the New Year’s Day. Addressing media persons, Sivan outlined ISRO’s achievements during the last one year and also the plans to be accomplished during the current year.

According to the ISRO chief, Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon, comprising a lander and a rover has been approved by the Government and activities for its realisation are in progress.

Sivan said that Chandrayaan-3 mission will have a lander and a rover, but not an orbiter. This gives rise to the question whether Chandrayaan-3 will have the same lander that was not sent along with Chandrayaan-2 orbiter when it was decided to send both the orbiter and the lander with the Chandrayaan-2 Mission. In that case, it would not be a major leap forward when it comes to building and launching Chandrayaan-3 in 9 months and at the projected low cost.

Talking about India’s first human space flight mission Gaganyaan, Sivan said “We’ve made good progress in the mission. The process of Astronaut selection for the mission is completed”. He further added that four astronauts have been selected, who will undergo extensive training.

Achievements of 2019

During 2019, six launch vehicle and seven satellite missions were realiSed by ISRO. The year also marked the 50th launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).  Sivan said that two new variants of the PSLV were introduced. For the first time, the spent fourth stage of the PSLV was successfully demonstrated as an experimental orbital platform.  Indigenously developed Vikram processor by Semi-Conductor Laboratory was flight tested during the year. International mobile standards body 3rd  Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) approved India’s regional navigation satellite system NavIC which would facilitate NavIC’s use in mobile phones.

On the capacity building front, a second launch port, exclusively for the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), is planned to be established in Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu. “Land acquisition activities are presently in progress”, said Sivan. A second Vehicle Assembly Building in SDSC SHAR Sriharikota was dedicated to the nation during the year for increasing the launch frequency. As part of the enhanced outreach activity, a launch viewing gallery was operationalised in Sriharikota to facilitate viewing of launches live by the public.

In an effort towards horizontal expansion of ISRO, Space Technology Cells, Space Technology Incubation Centres and Regional Academic Centres for Space were established during the year and many more such centres are planned in the future. A special programme for school children called “Yuva VIgyani KAryakram (YUVIKA)” aimed at imparting basic knowledge on Space Technology, Space Science and Space Applications was also introduced during the last year.

To carry forward the industry production of space systems, ISRO incorporated New Space India Limited (NSIL), under the Department of Space and efforts in realising PSLVs from industry initiated.

Other projects during the year include SSLV, GSLV with 4m ogive payload fairing, GSAT-20 satellite, NavIC with indigenous atomic clocks, Indian Data Relay Satellite System, Aditya-L1 and XPOSAT.

Postscript: ISRO is talking of Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan but with regard to remote sensing, 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. Who will talk about 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.

Planetary missions like aditya L1 are also delayed. Such delays are leading to waste of resources and wrong priorities.

Read more

Download: ISRO: Time for Change of Leadership


  1. After 6 th pay commission, Dr. G. Madhavan Nair Chairmanship period, Government has Introduced performance related Incentive scheme (PRIS) to Employees of ISRO. Under this scheme 20 % of the basic salary is paid in addition to salary as PRIS.

    One of the condition imposed (at that time as per my knowledge) for PRIS was minimum number of Launch in an year as a performance criteria.

    All Senior Scientists are getting about Rs. 500,000 per annum as PRIS , which will be paid on half yearly basis ( as per 7 th CPC salary structure).

    Chairman need to show progress to get PRIS sanctioned.

    In my opinion number of launch in a calendar year should not be the criteria for sanction of PRIS, but results of each launch ( in terms of utilization of each satellite) should be evaluated by an Independent third party Organization in a strict manner. Such committee should be free from all executives of ISRO , Former Chiefs of ISRO et al.

    Then only public funds are properly utilized.

    Disclaimer: My reviews are not to hurt any person or Organization, this is only towards effective utilization of public tax paid funds.


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