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ISRO: Tracing The Footsteps

  • 26 Aug 2022

 “Look up the stars and not down at your feet. 
 Try to make sense of what you see, and 
 wonder about what makes the universe exist”. 

This quote by Stephen Hawking has given words to the human curiosity to understand the mysteries of space that have awed civilisations for ages. This curiosity paved the way for various scientific discoveries from time to time. However, due to its unimaginable vastness and technological limitations, space exploration started only in the late 1950s when in October 1957, USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. Since then, the human race has achieved various milestones in the field of space exploration. However, these achievements are limited to a few countries, and India is among these few.

Indian Space Exploration

After it became independent in 1947, India took a bold step toward space exploration in 1962, just 15 years after independence. The government of India set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under the leadership of visionary Dr Sarabhai. Since then, India has never looked back from launching its first rocket from a small village named Thumba in Kerala to create a world record by launching 104 satellites in a single mission. India has come a long way in the field of space exploration.

ISRO and Its Significance

The Indian Space Research Organization is the national space agency of India, headquartered in Bangalore. ISRO operates under the Department of Space. The importance of this organisation can be determined by the fact that it comes directly under the Prime Minister of India.

ISRO was previously INCOSPAR (The Indian National Committee for Space Research), which was set up by the Government of India in 1962 when India decided to go to space. Then ISRO was formed in 1969, which replaced INCOSPAR. It was the vision of Dr Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai, the man who started India's space program. In June 1972, the Indian government created the Space Commission and established the Department of Space (DOS), and in September 1972, it subordinated ISRO to DOS.

With the vision of “Harness, sustain and augment space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration”, ISRO has now become one of the world's top space organisations for research and human space exploration.

ISRO has created significant space systems for communication, television transmission, meteorological services, resource monitoring and management, and space-based navigation services to achieve this goal. Development of heavy lift launchers, semi-cryogenic engines, reusable launch vehicles, human spaceflight projects, single and two stage-to-orbit (SSTO and TSTO) vehicles, development and usage of composite materials for space operations, etc. are all being advanced by ISRO. To place the satellites in the necessary orbits, ISRO has created the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), GSLV (Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch), and SSLV (Small Satellite Launch Vehicle). ISRO has completed 115 spacecraft missions, 84 launch missions, and 13 student satellites.

Major Accomplishments of ISRO

The first "Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station (ESCES)" was set up in Ahmedabad in 1967. The ISRO developed a television program called "Krishi Darshan" to provide farmers with agricultural information. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), called "the world's largest sociological

experiment," took place from 1975–1976. Around 200,000 individuals benefited from this initiative, which used the American Technology Satellite to send development-oriented programs to 2400 villages across six states (ATS-6). SITE deserves recognition for educating 50,000 primary school science instructors in a single academic year.

After SITE, ISRO and the Post and Telegraphs Department (P&T) collaborated on the Satellite Telecommunication Experiments Project (STEP), which used the Franco-German Symphony satellite from 1977 to 1979. The purpose of STEP was to develop the necessary indigenous competence for the proposed operational domestic satellite system, INSAT, and to offer a system test of using geosynchronous satellites for domestic communications.

After SITE, the "Kheda Communications Project (KCP)" served as a field laboratory for transmitting need-based and location-specific programming in Gujarat State's Kheda area. In 1984, KCP received the UNESCO-IPDC (International Program for the Development of Communication) award for excellence in rural communication.

The first Indian spacecraft, called "Aryabhata," was created during this period and launched with a Soviet launcher. Another significant achievement was the SLV-3, which had its first successful flight in 1980 and was the first launch vehicle capable of putting 40 kg into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

A significant turning point in our space program was the development of multistage rocket systems with appropriate control and navigation systems to orbit a satellite.

During the testing stage in the 1980s, the Bhaskara-I and Bhaskara-II missions made significant advances in remote sensing. At the same time, the “Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment” (APPLE) served as a prototype for a new generation of communication satellite systems. Major space infrastructure was built during the operating phase in the 1990s under two broad categories:

  • The Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) Satellite system
  • The multipurpose Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system.

Significant accomplishments during this phase included creating and operationalising the PSLV and the GSLV.

The organisation started its lunar mission in 2008 by launching the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter to the moon. A decade later, the Chandrayaan-3 mission, which is expected to launch late next year, and the second lunar mission, which, despite not being able to do a soft landing on the moon's surface, had a functioning orbiter, have both been scheduled. Following the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission, ISRO decided to explore Venus. Additionally, ISRO launched the Mars Orbiter Mission, popularly known as the "Mars craft" or “Mangalyaan”, to the Red Planet. In 2014, the spacecraft successfully landed on Mars, making India's space agency the fourth organisation to do so. A record-low $74 million was spent to complete the mission.

Future of ISRO

Becoming one of the six largest space agencies in the world, ISRO has consistently fulfilled its mission to use space for the benefit of the general public and the country. ISRO operates one of the largest fleets of INSAT (Indian National Satellite) communication satellites and IRS (Indian Remote Sensing) satellites.

The GAGAN and NAVIC satellite navigation systems, run by ISRO, also have the largest constellation of remote-sensing satellites. Broadcasting, communications, weather forecasts, disaster management tools, geographic information systems, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, and dedicated distance education satellites are just a few of the application-specific satellite products and tools that ISRO develops and provides to the nation.

Until now, ISRO has made every Indian proud with its astonishing achievements in space exploration. Now, with the emergence of space warfare and space defence, the big responsibility again lies on the shoulders of ISRO to make India secure in space defence. The US has already set up a US space force in 2020, and now there is a common consensus among the defence experts that future wars will largely be fought in space and cyberspace.

In March 2019, a successful anti-satellite test was conducted, which placed India in the company of China, Russia, and the US, which have the anti-satellite capability.

More importantly, in 2019, India established two new bureaucracies for space, the Defense Space Research Organization (DSRO) and Defense Space Agency (DSA). One of the critical future roles of ISRO will be to coordinate with these two bodies and with the Indian Armed Forces to ensure space security in India.

To conclude, one can say that in its journey of over five decades, ISRO has played a paramount role in making India a “Space Superpower” today. Once a dream of a few visionaries has today become the brand ambassador of strong and new India.

 Aarifa Nadeem 

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