Founder Director of LPSC-ISRO calls Nambi’s bluff and challenges Rocketry claims

Lalit Shastri

While it is a fact that ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan was implicated in a false case to settle local political scores and perhaps frighten ISRO to abandon the Cryogenic program, what should not be lost sight of is also the fact that Nambi Narayanan has used it (false spy case) to paint himself as a hero for everything from Vikas engine to Cryogenic engine through many interviews and the movie – Rocketry.

The point that should not be missed is that Rocketry is silent on renowned bureaucrat and former Chief Election Commissioner late TN Seshan’s contribution to the negotiation for the viking-vikas engine. Seshan in fact laid the foundation for the Departmen of Space (DoS), a contribution largely missed by commentators

The Government of India should have done a chronological check with ISRO to find out whether or not Nambi Narayanan took advantage of the Government’s animosity towards one of the accused former Gujarat Police Chief RB Sreekumar, who anyway did falsely frame Nambi in the infamous ISRO spy case.

During inquiry, an ISRO insider at the top level said in unequivocal terms “Nambi Narayanan in the movie Rocketry tries to project his son in law Subbiah Arunan. He was project Director Mars Mission and had allegedly used the influence of his father-in-law to get a two-year extension”.

Rocketry poster, courtesy binged.com

Dr A E Muthunayagam, Founder Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), ISRO, and the controlling officer of Nambi Narayanan in a scathing attack has pointed to “false claims” over the years by Nambi Narayanan, and also the film ‘Rocketry’.

Nambi Narayanan had earlier spoken to Dr Muthunayagam and told him that he lost his career due to the false spy case against him but he earned a lot of sympathy. So he took his case with his contacts and authorities and received his Padma award. Nambi also has told him “he can speak to the PM directly”. While pointing this out, Dr Muthuunayagam told Newsroom24x7 “he does do not know what it means”.

Now this leaves a question mark on the system and procedure for awarding Padma awards. Inquiry has revealed that Nambi Narayanan was not nominated by the Department of Space for his excellence and that it was through political contacts that he was honoured with the Padma Award. He would have received Padma award during his service in ISRO if it was for his excellence and contribution to the Nation.

Some press and social media appear to mislead public, based on the inputs from Nambi Narayanan and the Producer of the film Rocketry, Dr Muthunayagam has asserted adding “unfortunately, the ISRO authorities are silent”.

Cover of the book “From Space to Sea- My ISRO journey and Beyond” by
Dr Abraham E. Muthunayagam. It has been published by HarperCollins in June 2022.
In 2008, with the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1, India’s first mission to the Moon, the Indian Space
Research Organisation (ISRO) joined an elite space club. The foundation of this achievement, however, was laid decades ago by a small group of people, one of whom was Dr Abraham E. Muthunayagam.
The author, known as Father of the Indian Space Propulsion, provides a ringside view of the development of propulsion systems in India.

On the way the ISRO espionage case was handled by the Department of Space, Dr Muthunayagam has talked of his struggle in DoS in Chapter 15 of his book – “From Space to Sea- My ISRO journey and Beyond” – and how he was pushed down. In spite of all this, he was senior most Director when Dr U R Rao retired. Some months back, a Kerala Police Officer at the level of SP had called him and said that he was then in the spy case investigating team and he was asked to arrest him after Nambi was arrested. He was also pressured. But he did not find any valid reason to arrest him then. Had he arrested him then his whole career would have been lost and he could never have become Secretary to Government of India.

It has been revealed that the espionage case was linked to Cryogenic Technology which was not existing then at ISRO. Dr Kasthurirangan who became the Chairman ISRO just about 6 months before the spy case surfaced, knew that ISRO did not have cryogenic technology. He could have conducted a departmental enquiry and assessed facts and closed the case in 1994 itself. He did not do that. This in spite of the fact that Dr Muthunayagam had given a written report to him after his internal enquiry and verification of records that there was no espionage on the Vikas project. It appears that he wanted to put Dr Muthunayagam in trouble and he bypassed him and dealt with the case with Kerala police through the controller of his Centre.

Dr Kasthurirangan had told Dr Muthunayagam that he would like to move him to Bangalore without naming any position. Dr Muthunayagam had responded to this by telling him that he would quit ISRO in a months time and that he need not consider any such action.

Dr Muthunayagam told Newsroom24x7 that when he joined ISRO, reporting to Dr Sarabhai in 1966 at SD level, Kasthurirangan was a Technical Assistant doing PHD under the guidance of Dr UR Rao at PRL. Also, that he (Dr Muthunayagam) was a Member in the ISRO level promotion board for promotion at ISRO level from SD to SE under the chairmanship of Dr Brahm Prakash . Kasthurirangan was interviewed and promoted as SE in that board.

Dr Muthunayagam has even raised the question whether or not Kasthurirangan had colluded with Kerala police in handling the Spy case? Some facts can come out only if Kasthurirangan, then JS DOS and MKC Nair, ( Controller of LPSC) were questioned.

Dr Muthunayagam goes on to ask – What a harm has been done to two senior LPSC engineers and to the reputation of ISRO itself by the non-action of Kasthurirangan? Can Government of India permit this to happen?

In 1965, Dr Muthunayagam was selected by Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Chairman INCOSPAR, in an interview at the Indian Embassy, Washington D. C. and he had joined INCOSPAR at Thumba in April 1966. He had the privilege to work under Dr Sarabhai in Space Science & Technology Centre (SSTC) to lead all developments of Propulsion systems for ISRO. During his professional career in ISRO which started in 1967 as Divisional Head in SSTC, reporting to the Director Dr Sarabhai, then, on a further reorganization in 1972 as Group Director –Propulsion  Group (PSN)  in Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), reporting to VSSC Director Dr Braham Prakash, simultaneously as Vikas Project Director in 1974 in VSSC for implementing the ISRO –SEP  technology acquisition agreement for high thrust liquid engines from France. Further,  as Director Liquid Propulsion Projects in 1980 in VSSC for the development of the liquid stages for ISRO launch vehicles, based on the technlogy, acquired from France. In addition, he also served concurrently in ISRO, as Program Director-Auxiliary Propulsion System Unit (APSU), an autonomous unit of ISRO since 1980 and ultimately in 1985 as Director Liquid Propulsion System Unit (LPSU). In 1987 LPSU was renamed as Liquid Propulsion System Centre (LPSC), one of the R&D centres of ISRO with Dr Muthunayagam as the Director. During this entire period,  he was the controlling officer for all propulsion system developments in ISRO.

On the role of Nambi Narayanan, Dr Muthunayagam conveyed to Newsroom24x7 that he had joined Dr Abdul Kalam in Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) at ISRO and had worked for a few months in the Sounding Rocket Program before his appointment in the Propulsion Engineering Division of SSTC, which was headed by him (Dr Muthunayagam). Nambi continued to work under him till he was transferred out by the then Chairman ISRO when the “false Spy case” surfaced in LPSC around 1994.

In 1972 when Dr Muthunayagam became the Group Director of Propulsion Group (PSN) in VSSC, Nambi Narayanan reported to him when he was Head of the Liquid Propulsion Division in PSN Group. Further, in 1974 when Dr Muthunayagam became the Vikas Project Director, concurrent to his responsibility as PSN Group Director, it was he who had established the Vikas –Vernon Project office near SEP campus for technology acquisition from France with Nambnarayanan, as Project Manager.

To implement the ISRO-SEP agreement under Vikas project, Nambi Narayanan reported to Dr Muthunayagam along with T P Rangamany, leader of the backup team in PSN group in VSSC in planning Vikas engine hardware realization in India and establishing facilities for test and evaluation and V Srikantan, Manager, Pressure Transducer Unit, (Bangalore), an autonomous unit under Vikas project.

In 1980, Chairman ISRO established Liquid Propulsion Projects (LPP) In VSSC for developing liquid propulsion stages for ISRO launch vehicles based on SEP technology. It was then that Dr Muthunayagam was nominated as Director-LPP with three senior colleagues of his Propulsion Group, VSSC, reporting to him. They were:

  1. S Nambi Narayanan with responsibility for all activities related to Vikas engine and Stage development
  2. K KasiViswanathan with responsibility for all activities related to Vikas engine hardware realization
  3. R Karunanidhi with responsibility for assembly, integration and testing of Vikas engine and stage and establishing the test centre at a new site at Mahendragiri.

The three of them worked together as a team under the guidance and direction of Dr Muthunayagam. Thus Nambi Narayanan never had any responsibility in the development of liquid propulsion stages independent of him and outside his domain of propulsion system development activities, it has been pointed out by Dr Muthunayagam.

Dr Muthunayagam goes on to point out “India has made tremendous progress in communication, earth observation, navigation and scientific infrastructure in space. Propulsion systems play an important role in all these ventures. Nevertheless, very little is available in the public domain about this saga of pioneering efforts-technical challenges, international collaborations, technology denials etc.” To put the record straight, he has written the book titled “From Space to Sea- My ISRO journey and Beyond”. This book, published by HarperCollins in June 2022, is an attempt to tell the story of his career over four decades in two realms – Space and the Ocean and to serve as a historical record of the developments then.

Chapter 5 of this book, titled, “Liquid Propulsion Systems and Vikas, the workhorse of ISRO Launch Vehicles” gives the details of the developments, with  the French technology.

Professor Satish Dhawan, chairman, ISRO, T.N. Seshan, joint secretary, DOS, Dr A.E. Muthunayagam, founder-director LPSC, S. Nambi Narayanan, Vikas-E&S, N. Gunaseharan, GM, PTU along with Rane Morin, commercial director of the French aerospace company SEP and his team after final review of transducer supply agreement between ISRO and SEP

In 1968, Dr Sarabhai founded Static Test & Evaluation Complex (STEX) as a project at Sriharikotta and nominated Dr Muthunayagam as Project Engineer to establish static test facilities for Solid motors of SLV 3. Under the guidance of T N Seshan, then Joint Secretary of the Department of Sace (DoS) and assistance of CNES, Dr Muthunayagm had negotiated with Rane Morin, Commercial Director of the Ffench Aerospace Company SEP and established the STEX-SEP agreement in early seventies which was implemented by a project team led by M Annamalai.

In continuation, another agreement was signed between ISRO and SEP in 1974 for technology transfer of Viking Engine, being developed for the Ariane project by SEP. Under the general guidance and approval from Dr Dhawan, Chairman ISRO, Mr T N Seshan negotiated the deal with SEP and prepared the ISRO-SEP agreement, while Dr Muthunayagam interfaced with R Morin of SEP and explored the options for collaboration and provided all technical details. All logistic support was provided by Ch Venugopal, the officer in charge of ISRO Technical Liaison unit (ITLU) at Paris. When Vikas Project was established in VSSC with Dr Muthunayagam as Vikas Project Director, Nambi Narayanan was inducted into the program.        

Nambi Narayanan claims to have worked closely with Dr Sarabhai, Dr Dhawan, Dr Brahm Prakash, the stalwarts of ISRO in evolving the space program.  On these claims, Dr Muthunayagam has stated that during the days of Dr Sarabhai, since 1967, Nambi Narayanan was an engineer in the Propulsion Engineering Division in SSTC when he headed it. Then Dr Sarabhai had introduced an innovative management system for SSTC through Technical Coordination & Finance Committee (TCFC) with five divisional heads. (Dr V R Gowarikar, Dr S C Gupta, Dr M K Mukherje, Dr Y Janardhana Rao and Dr AE Muthunayagam). Each member became the Chairman of TCFC for a period of three months in rotation. The Chairman TCFC was discharging the duties of Director SSTC in the absence of Dr Sarabhai from Thumba. Dr Sarabhai administered SSTC only through TCFC. Nambi Narayanan was never a member of TCFC and was never an invitee to the TCFC normal meetings. Thus he could never contribute in evolving programs of SSTC and his claim appears to be blatently false.

Regrettably, Dr Muthunayagam has gone on to state “all stalwarts of Space program, referred by Nambi Narayanan are no more now to ascertain facts.  In his total career in ISRO, Nambi Narayanan was never a Director of any ISRO R&D Centre or Project Director of ISRO Projects on Launch Vehicle or Satellite to have close working relation with the Chairman ISRO to evolve programs and implement them. His claim is not based on facts.”

In his capacity as Director, Propulsion Group (PSN) in VSSC, Director Vikas Project, and Director Liquid Propulsion Projects, Dr Muthunayagam was reporting to Dr Braham Prakash in all propulsion systems related developments and supplies to launch vehicle projects.  For all his assignments, as Head Liquid propulsion division of PSN group, Manager Vikas Vernon Project office of Vikas project and Manager E&S of LPP Projects, Nambi Narayanan was reporting to him and not to Dr Brahm Prakash, His claim to have worked closely with Dr Brahm Prakash also is not based on facts, Dr Muthunayagam has emphasised.

Underscoring the role of Nambi Narayanan in Cryogenic Propulsion System in LPSC/ISRO in no uncertain terms, Dr Muthunayagam states as follows:

  1. In mid-eighties a study project, under the leadership of EVS Namboodri, on Cryogenic Propulsion Systems for future launch vehicles in ISRO recommended the development of a cryogenic stage with 12 ton (nominal) propellant and with a 12 ton (nominal) thrust cryogenic engine as upper stage for future launch vehicles of ISRO. Mr Nambi Narayanan was not a member of the study project team and made no contributions.
  2. In 1987, in my capacity as Director LPSU, I established a Cryogenic Propulsion Development Group in  LPSU with Mr EVS Namboodri as Group Director and Mr Gnanagandhi as Group Head and Mr S C Gosh as Divisional Head. This team initiated the R&D, starting with a 1 ton thrust engine as a pilot scale development. Mr Nambi Narayanan was not a member of the development team.
  3. During the last quarter of 1990, to develop and supply a cryogenic upper stage for the GSLV launch vehicle, a Cryogenic System Project (CSP) was established in LPSC with Nambi Narayanan as Project Director (CSP)and  a Project Management Board under the chairmanship of Director LPSC (me). Then Chairman ISRO decided to have a collaboration with Glavkosmos (GK), the Russian space agency, He directed Director LPSC to negotiate details with Russian counterparts along with representatives from ISRO HQ and GSLV.  Consequently, an agreement was signed between ISRO and Glavkosmos (GK) in January 1991.
  4. The agreement had two parts; the first one was supply of two cryogenic stages for initial fights of GSLV and the second one was to transfer of technology and training to ISRO for future manufacture of cryogenic stages for ISRO projects. While the engine was exclusively developed by Russia, the stage and subsystems were joint development between Russia and India. Mr R Jeyamani, Project Director (PD) GSLV focussed on the supply of the Cryogenic Stage from Russia and Mr Nambi Narayanan PD CSP/APD GSLV focussed on manufacture of the cryogenic stage in India with the guidance and support of Russians. 
  5. As per ISRO-GK agreement, Director LPSC deputed to Russia Mr V Gnanagandhi, DPD- CSP and his team from ISRO and industries for technology acquisition and training in a phased manner beginning from January 1993. The Indian team studied the documents and drawings which were supplied by GK, visited facilities where development was in progress, discussed with Russian specialists. Number of ISRO personnel visited Russian industries for short periods for training and discussion with Russian experts to acquire the technology.
  6. Regretfully, due to political reasons GK rescinded the agreement and consequently, personnel deputed for technology acquisition and training returned to India around October 1993. As desired by Chairman ISRO, I (Director LPSC) along with my  colleagues in ISRO-HQ, GSLV and CSP, renegotiated and got it modified in December 1993, deleting the technology transfer component and retaining the supply component with amendment to increase the supplies as compensation for rescinding the agreement. It was approved and implemented.
  7. Though the technology was denied by Russia, it has to be developed for ISRO launch vehicle programs. Director LPSC assessed the status of technology acquisition and consulted all concerned and recommended to Chairman ISRO to continue with the cryogenic stage development with the knowledge gained from Russia by the CSP team.  Chairman ISRO approved my proposal.
  8. The R&D in the cryogenic propulsion developments continued in LPSC. Unfortunately, Nambi Narayanan was moved out in 1994 due to the false spy case.  Consequently, Nambi Narayanan could not participate further in the cryogenic propulsion system developments after he left LPSC in 1994.
  9. Further, Government of India transferred me (Director, LPSC-ISRO)  as Secretary to Department of Ocean Development, Government of India in April 1995.
  10. To continue with the development of the cryogenic upper stage (CUS) for GSLV, in 1995, a CUS project was established at LPSC with Gnanagandhi as Project Director of CUS with a project management board under the chairmanship of EVS Namboodri.
  11. It is understood from reports from LPSC that LPSC had a successful test of the 1 ton thrust regenerative cooled (LOX and LH2) cryogenic engine in 1996 and a 12 ton thrust chamber in 1998 under the R&D efforts. Further, it is noted that the LPSC Team subsequently had successfully developed the Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS) and demonstrated its flight performance first time in the GSLV-Mk-II D5 flight in the year 2014 and made the Stage operational for GSLV Vehicle. In addition, the LPSC team had also developed another Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (C25 Stage) for GSLV Mk-III vehicle.  This development took place between 2002 to 2017 and successfully employed as the Upper Stage of GSLV Mk-III vehicle. Thus significant developments in cryogenic propulsion system have taken place after Nambi Narayanan left the LPSC. Details can be had from Chapter 10 ‘Cryogenic Propulsion and the Russian Connection’ of my book ‘From Space to Sea’.

Dr Muthunayagam has drawn attention to Nambi Narayanan’s recent claim that he had good knowledge and information on Cryogenic propulsion systems from his Russian friend during his MS program at Princeton University, USA. Countering this claim, Dr Muthunayagam says, this does not appear to be based on facts since he did not make any reference about such a vital information of interest to ISRO program either to the Cryogenic Study project in mid-80s or to the Cryogenic Propulsion Development group under the leadership of EVS Namboodri in 1987. He has particularly underscored the point that Nambi Narayanan did not mention anything about it to him, when he was his controlling officer nor to the ISRO management.

Dr Muthunayagam has demanded that the role of Nambi Narayanan in these developments which is contrary to his claims in public meetings for years and the film ‘Rocketry’ should be critically examined and truth brought to the attention of public.

The way ISRO management handled the ISRO Spy case is a matter of serious concern.

In Dr Muthunayagam’s words: “Dr Kasthurirangan, then Chairman ISRO, never discussed details about this case with the Director LPSC but took administrative action on Nambi Narayanan and Sasikumaran who were his subordinates in LPSC. He bypassed the Director LPSC and operated through the controller LPSC who was reporting to the Director of the centre. Hence Director LPSC had no detail about the case. From the details available now, the Director LPSC understands that the espionage was on Cryogenic technology which did not exist in LPSC then. This is known to all officials concerned in ISRO.”

“It is a matter of serious concern why ISRO processed the espionage on non-existing cryogenic technology and initiated disciplinary proceedings against two senior officials of LPSC and why the Director of the Centre (Dr Muthunayagam), who subsequently moved out as Secretary Department of Ocean Development, Government of India, was kept away from this case.”  

Download picture inserts in the book “From Space to Sea – My ISRO Journey and Beyond”

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3 comments

  1. So what is portrayed in the movie is not all true. Anyway we will take the movie as a work of fiction like other movies.

    Like

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