Tag Archives: ISRO

NASA-ISRO NISAR Mission and the conflict of interest

Lalit Shastri

NISAR is a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) with the goal to make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes using advanced radar imaging.”

“The NISAR mission concept and the partnership between NASA and ISRO are in response to the National Academy of Science’s 2007 survey of Earth observational priorities for the next decade, known as the decadal survey. One of the top priorities identified in this survey was to gain data and insight in three Earth science domains: ecosystems, deformation of Earth’s crust and cryospheric sciences.”

“As NASA and ISRO discussed the possibility of a joint radar mission, it became clear that this goal was of great interest to the ISRO science community.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) and ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan signed documents in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2014, to launch a joint Earth-observing satellite mission and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars. Credit: NASA

“On Sept. 30, 2014, NASA and ISRO signed a partnership to collaborate and launch NISAR. The mission is targeted to launch in early 2023. NASA is providing the mission’s L-band synthetic aperture radar, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder and payload data subsystem. ISRO is providing the spacecraft bus, the S-band radar, the launch vehicle and associated launch services.” (Click for reference).

The NASA-ISRO SAR (NISAR) Mission will measure Earth’s changing ecosystems, dynamic surfaces, and ice masses providing information about biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise, and groundwater, and will support a host of other applications. NISAR will observe Earth’s land and ice-covered surfaces globally with 12-day regularity on ascending and descending passes, sampling Earth on average every 6 days for a baseline 3-year mission. NASA is currently initiating the formulation phase for the core observatory. (Credit NASA)

Inquiries have revealed that NASA was originally reluctant to include S band SAR. In 2016, they put severe pressure to remove S-band SAR through very top hierarchy of ISRO. But somehow rest of the project team opposed this move and development of S band was continued. In past 9 months, S band SAR was integrated at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratpry (JPL). But it is rumoured that the S-SAR payload delivered to JPL by ISRO had severe electromagnetic leakage, making it unworthy of launch. It is also rumoured that with such performance, dropping of S-band SAR is the only possibility. 

ISRO need to come out categorically in public with the status of test and evaluation of S band SAR in the presence of L band SAR provided by JPL-NASA. If the performance of S band SAR is below expectation, ISRO should solve nagging technical issues rather than dropping their own baby. They must ensure their commitment that S band SAR should fly in NISAR. 

In between, Rakesh Bhan, the Associate Project Director of NISAR, the person officially designated to lead S-band SAR, has got linked with a Startup called Canopus Space. It has two Directors, one of them is Shanoo Raina, his wife. But curiously the mail address of the company is rakesh.bhan@canopus-space.com, in the name of her husband. She is a graduate in Arts and has no locus standi in SAR technology or data. Clearly putting the name of her husband in the email address is an indirect way of indicating to the potential investors and customers who the real person behind this company. The other director is Namrata Verma, daughter in law of Rakesh and Rashmi Verma, the owners of MapmyIndia. The ostensible purpose of this company is to launch constellation of SAR satellites for earth observation.

MapmyIndia, that works with data, apparently will be in the background.

If S band SAR is dropped from the NISAR Mission, NASA will not be under obligation to give free data. Instead they will price L band SAR data. In this scenario one cannot rule out the possibility of MapmyIndia becoming their seller of data and analytic product.  This will be a natural outcome as MapmyIndia is a formidable power as their forte is satellite data and data analytics products and software.

Conflict of Interest

In this scenario, association of Rakesh Bhan with MapmyIndia, though indirectly via his wife, raises some uncomfortable questions as he is in a position to play a major role when it comes to retaining or dropping the S band SAR payload. Certainly, it is a case of conflict of interest.

Who Shrunk ISRO

Lalit Shastri

Newsroom24x7 has published a series of exclusive stories exposing how leadership deficit in ISRO has retarded the progress of India’s space programme in recent years. We have also unearthed scams and serious irregularities in ISRO – most of it during the tenure of Dr K Sivan, the Present Secretary Department of Space and ex-officio Chairman ISRO. After repeated extensions in service, everyone connected with ISRO is now asking wheher or not Sivan, who was given a one-year extension last year, will get one more extension. Sivan is due to retire on 14 January 2022.

Sivan can be given another extension only for 6 months as he cannot remain in Government of India service after attaining the maximum permissible age of 65.

Questions are being asked in knowledgeable circles whether or not Sivan would himself seek or accept extension for another six months because everyone knows that if he takes extension, he would be playing the most uncomfortable role of presiding over the disbanding of a lot that has been built over long years by committed and ditinguished scientists for ISRO and India’s space programme. For the gullible all this would be normal since private players have been allowed entry into the space sector and, with passage of time, no one will ask “Who shrunk ISRO”. The knowledgeable would prefer to ignore and the less informed will never know that approval for private sector participation by the Modi Cabinet was approved apparently by:

  • falling standards of leadership when it came to steering India’s space programme coupled with intolerance of bright colleagues
  • poorer mission quality (like poor image quality and mispointing of many flagship remote sensing satellites)
  • mission failures like Chandrayan 2 lander and GSAT 6A
  • NAVIC atomic clock failure
  • public spectacle of attempt to stall India’s first HTS GSAT 11, which ultimately had to be launched but with escalated cost
  • loss in focus in application of remote sensing data and stalling the easy availability of Remote Sensing data to multiple users
  • lack of action in Gaganyaan programme.

The present ISRO leadership has falsely tried to take the credit for the space sector reform process set in motion by the Cabinet presided by Prime Minister Modi. In fact, the present dispensation virtually scuttled the privatisation move and had issued only an expression of interest in 2019. It also closed the small satellite program and virtually killed most of the societal applications.

Furthermore, when the Space Sector is being opened up, it needs, along with a strong legal framework, a regulatory mechanism that should not become a sinecure for retired ISRO scientists. It is also necessary to ensure there is no geo-spatial information cartel of ex-ISRO functionaries.

At the same time, an institution like ISRO should not be broken up and allowed to get swallowed by corporates that are eyeing it’s considerable manpower, assets and intellectual property.

Already we have a scenario where Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) has been set up to act as an autonomous body, under Department of Space (DoS), as a single window nodal agency for enabling and regulating space activities and usage of ISRO facilities by NGPEs.

  • Importantly, IN-SPACe will work out a suitable mechanism to offer sharing of technology, expertise and facilities on free of cost wherever feasible or at reasonable cost basis to promote NGPEs.
  • IN-SPACe will act as an autonomous body, under DOS, as a single window nodal agency for enabling and regulating space activities and usage of ISRO facilities by NGPEs.
  • IN-SPACe will also permit establishment of facilities, within ISRO premises, based on safety norms and feasibility assessment.
  • The marketing, sharing and dissemination of remote sensing data shall be governed by Remote sensing policy. Each application requiring examination as per new policy will be examined and permitted by IN-SPACE factoring legal and security aspects.
  • The decision of IN-SPACe shall be final and binding on all stakeholders including ISRO. NGPEs will not be required to seek separate permission from ISRO.

It is too well known that many satellites were launched by ISRO with 2 to 5 years lag in setting up of ground segments. The aborted GISAT-1 launch exposed the disconnect with user departments. The lid is now off as the termination of funding and projects by user departments and security agencies a couple of months ago has put a question mark on the continuity in service of about of 6000 engineers beyond March 2022 . According to available information, these enginners, working on adhoc basis, have got a temporary lease of life due to funding available from Government of India’s consolidated fund. In the meanwhile all ISRO launches have been put on the backburner and there is a strong likelihood that under the prevailing cicumstances, senior engineers and scienstists would be left with no option but to seek voluntary retirement.

CHECK: What ails ISRO

Performance of ISRO nose-dived in 2020 and 2021 despite India’s enviable record on COVID management front

Newsroom24x7 Network

Distinguished Space scientist and former Director Space Application Centre Tapan Misra has taken stock of the global scenario during the period when every country was facing the COVID pandemic and has highlighted the fact that the performance of Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO) or India nose dived in 2020 and 2021 though India had comparatively enviable record when it came to managing the Covid situation.

In a post on facebook, Misra has asked: How did Covid-19 pandemic affect global Space Programme? He has responded to this question objectively and with a no-nonsense approach.

Commenting on the situation that has kept the entire world hostage for pretty long, Misra says, “the spectre of sudden emergence of Covid-19 in Wuhan province of China in December 2019 was being discussed as a possibility of rising as global pandemic, in hushed tones, in global health and political circles. But by March 2020, all over the world the emergence of the Pandemic of a century was felt, sending chilling reminders to humanity that we should not play God. From March 2020 to October 2021, global economics nose dived, killing millions, affecting billions, spreading shock waves of hunger and unemployment all across the globe states: “I thought it may be worthwhile to compare global launches in Covid cursed years of 2020 and 2021 with unaffected year of 2019.”

Misra focuses attention at countrywide trends in launches (Fig.2) to point out that China and USA are neck to neck, with China having slender advantage. Russia as usual is just a notch behind the two space super powers.

Fig.-1 shows month wise global launches in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The global space Industry not only appeared to be unaffected by the devastating pandemic, but in fact showed upward trend. No trend is visible over annual patterns over three years. In fact data from all three years show the typical upward trend as the year end is reached, showing the typical tendency of space agencies to shift to top gears to meet the annual target and this is in sharp contrast to what India has to flaunt in terms of India’s performance in the same sector.

Misra points out, Indian economy had started bouncing back from 3rd quarter of 2021 and the bounce has picked up consistency in second half of 2021.

Then what ails ISRO?

Based on his long experience in ISRO, the distinguished scientist has pointed out that the effect of management performance is observed in actual output of space Industry with approximately one and half years to two years of delay. There were gross unethical misconduct in ISRO in 2017 and 2018 time frame to settle and consolidate management transition in favour of a certain groupings, rather than merit and competence, he has stated adding the the resultant shenanigans have not only sent wrong vibes to the rank and file, but also ate away trust quotient between top management and general employees.

In Fig.-3, ISRO’s launch performance over last 4 decades can be observed.

According to Misra, ISRO started gaining momentum in the last decade. But off late, the momentum started nose diving. The momentum was taken for granted and somehow the arrogance has crept in that ISRO will perform regardless of the quality of leadership. Why not pitch for a leadership which can be milked by an influential section of retired scientists, who at the first place influence the selection process disproportionately in the first place? Then foreign players join the greedy bandwagon to hammer the last nail on the coffin. The result is a daydream turned into nightmare. The numbers speak of the harsh reality of what not to do with the organisation. A lesson learnt in devastation of a fine organisation, built by the efforts of thousands of employees, whose voice are seldom heard.

Performance in Space sector

USA/NASA

Space Calender 2020

Space Calender 2021

Russia/ Roscosmos

Launches 2021

Launches 2020

China / China National Space Administration (CNSA)

National Space Administration News

ISRO Launch Missions 2020 and 2021

NameLaunch DateLauncher TypePayloadRemarks
GSLV-F10 / EOS-03Aug 12, 2021GSLVEOS-03Mission unsuccessful
PSLV-C51/Amazonia-1Feb 28, 2021PSLV-DL
PSLV-C50/CMS-01Dec 17, 2020PSLV-XLCMS-01
PSLV-C49/EOS-01Nov 07, 2020PSLV-DLEOS-01

Solar Calculator: Monumental role played by SAC-ISRO remote sensing scientists

Tapan Misra

Our scientists had all the data and science, one leading business group had resources and ideas of building renewable energy business but had a gap in requisite science, and the country had an urgent requirement of leap frogging in utilisation of renewable energy as a responsible nation, in preventing looming climate disaster. Together came Solar Calculator. It was an honour for ISRO, when our Honourable Prime Minister dedicated our Solar Calculator to the common good of mankind in the recent COP 26 meeting, held in Glasgow.

In SAC-ISRO, remote sensing scientists are like Kuber Bhagavan – the God and Protector of Wealth in the Hindu pantheon of gods and godesses. They sit over piles of data, collected by our array of satellites and jealously guard them.

In 2016, Adani Green approached SAC. They were planning to establish solar power plants, following commitment by our Honourable PM in COP 20 meeting in Paris in 2015 and his personal initiation of establishment of International Solar Alliance.

For maximum energy output, solar panels need to be oriented perpendicular to sunlight. But sun light directions change over day, over seasons, over the earth latitude. Over the day Sun moves from East to West and somewhere near middle of the day, the Sun is overhead. During winter in northern hemisphere, sun is tilted southwards and in summer, northwards. In southern hemisphere, the phenomenon is reverse- in summer sun is tilted southwards, in winter northwards.
Sunrays’ incidence angle changes with latitude also. Maximum solar illumination occurs on equator. As you move towards South and North Pole, solar energy density reduces rapidly, becoming almost nil at polar regions.

Sunlight is available during day only. But the length of the day varies with season. Maximum during summer and minimum during winter.

Atmosphere plays truant too. All of us know that cloud and rain block sunlight substantially. But do you know that water vapour present in the atmosphere attenuates sunlight? Similarly dust, smog also block sunlight to some extent. Surface topography plays a significant role. All of us know that depending on slopes and their direction, sunlight appear brighter or softer in hilly regions. Based on directions of shadows of hills and mountains, day duration also shortens differently.

The local temperature plays a role. Solar cells operate with maximum efficiency at 35 deg C. At temperatures above and below this temperature, their efficiency goes down.

Adanis wanted following basic information:

  • Average sunlight power or solar insolation at a particular location
  • Average diurnal and seasonal variation of the same
  • Optimum angle of orientation of solar panels in terms of azimuth and elevation angles over a day and over a year.
  • Additionally they wanted prediction of the loss in solar energy on daily basis due to variability of atmospheric conditions.

All of these inputs are necessary to select optimum site for establishment of Solar farms, prediction of average outputs and controlling power feed to national power grid.

I discussed with our scientists. We have decades of archives of weather data from our weather satellites to predict Average behaviour of atmosphere over Indian subcontinent. Our weather satellites update our weather information on half hourly basis. We have detailed map of topography over Indian subcontinent. But all of them are available in different places and different minds.

I always felt that the greatest weakness of ISRO’s remote sensing programme was collation of science and data with practicable information. That is why in 2016, I triggered a small team to establish VEDAS- Visualisation of Earth Observation Data and Archival Sustem. Key word was Visualisation of Information in terms of colour maps and plots. We gave power to laymen to bring out information from time series of our remote sensing data by carrying out necessary science computation with in-built algorithm on the fly. In essence, the idea was to make science easy.

I gave the task of building the Solar Calculator to VEDAS team. We delivered the necessary software and data interface to Adanis in 2017. VEDAS team also made this Calculator as freely available mobile app on their portal. I understand that till today, there have been 71000 downloads, a staggering number for a scientific App. By 2017 time frame, this idea was truly novel and ISRO was pioneer. VEDAS team even augmented their information system by adding our scatterometer data and global altimeter data to predict coastal wind and wave energy too. In essence, we built a complete suit of renewable energy assessment tools for anybody, that too at free of cost. In 2018, we have made a special version, applicable for whole of African continent and demonstrated it in the International Solar Alliance meeting in New Delhi.

Our scientists had all the data and science, one leading business group had resources and ideas of building renewable energy business but had a gap in requisite science, and the country had an urgent requirement of leap frogging in utilisation of renewable energy as a responsible nation, in preventing looming climate disaster. Together came Solar Calculator. It was an honour for ISRO, when our Honourable Prime Minister dedicated our Solar Calculator to the common good of mankind in the recent COP 26 meeting, held in Glasgow.

I have a personal satisfaction in playing a miniscule role in mobilising my fantastic colleagues from SAC to achieve this feat. Together we win.

Further ref:
https://vedas.sac.gov.in/en/

https://vedas.sac.gov.in/renewable-energy/index.html

Tapan Misra is a globally acclaimed distinguished scientist. He has headed the Space Application Centre and also served as Advisor in Department of Space. His contribution to India’s Space Programme is immense.