ISRO on guard as virus rages

Physical attendance of staff limited, visitors banned on premises

April 23, 2021 03:48 am | Updated 03:48 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kerala has prompted units of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the State capital to ramp up safety measures.

In line with the Central government guidelines, physical attendance at the office has been limited to staff of the rank of deputy secretary and above. Meetings were fully shifted to virtual mode from Monday.

Thiruvananthapuram is home to three major units of the space agency — Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thumba, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Valiyamala, and the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU) at Vattiyurkavu. The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) is also situated in the district.

“Several measures were put in place last year following the outbreak. Biometric fingerprint scanning and entrance turnstiles have been replaced with no-touch RFID readers. Visitors are banned on the premises. Given the recent increase in cases, we have instructed staff who have fever or cold not to report for duty. Sanitiser dispensers have been deployed all over the campus,” a VSSC official said. The VSSC has around 4,700 staff plus contract employees, trainees, and security personnel.

Similar measures are in place at the LPSC, which has around 1,000 staff and the IISU, which has 300 employees.

Impact on schedule

How the second wave would affect the ISRO launch calendar remains to be seen, officials here said. The pandemic had forced the space agency to put off several missions last year. In 2020, the ISRO facilities in Thiruvananthapuram had remained shut for nearly two months on account of the pandemic. Work had resumed on a limited scale only in late May.

ISRO has a GSLV Mk II mission (GISAT-1 payload) tentatively scheduled for May, but the launch date has not been finalised yet. The space agency also has at least two PSLV missions tentatively lined up in 2021.

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