Projects are affected with industries not back to production, says ISRO Chairman Sivan

ISRO Chairman K Sivan. File.

ISRO Chairman K Sivan. File.   | Photo Credit: PTI

With supply chains yet to resume, ISRO’s planned launches and satellite activities are delayed, says Chairman K. Sivan

On January 1, 2020, the Indian Space Research Organisation set out an ambitious target of 25 satellite and launch missions for the year. With three months now lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the space agency without a single home launch yet, ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space K. Sivan said though supply of hardware from industries has been affected, work at each centre is on track.

In the last three months how have ISRO and its centres been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Definitely there has been some impact on our programme because of the lockdown. But we are not able to assess it now. We are yet to get stabilised output. We have two kinds of activities. One is in-house research and development. The other one is project or mission related, done outside in industry. ISRO’s own activities are not affected. What is affected is the supply of hardware from industries.

Most of our work is done outside in the industry and we are waiting for the industry to start functioning fully. Only then, after some time, can we review and make some assessments. At the same time ISRO is not keeping quiet. Each centre has its in-house facilities and is carrying out many developmental activities in full steam.

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When do you think you can resume launching satellites?

Because of the widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic, project activities and mission work can be decided only later, when we can rightly assess the situation.

By hardware do you mean satellites, launch vehicles, rocket tanks and systems, etc? Could you please elaborate how hardware issues have impacted your projects?

Yes. Hardware for all our programmes is affected. Most of our hardware comes from Mumbai and other cities but our vendor industry is not yet fully functional. Project work is affected because industry is not fully geared up for production; inter-state movement [of supplies] is affected and also because employees` movements are not normal.

Around 500 small, medium and large industries contribute to the space programme in many ways. The virus and its effect are spread across the country. Even if hardware is made, transporting it [to the respective centres] is the problem. We cannot move the rakes, vehicles or the trailers. For example, if they go from Thiruvananthapuram to Bengaluru or from Thiruvananthapuram to Sriharikota, they must pass through Tamil Nadu and will have to get quarantined.

A little bit of transportation is happening but not to the normal extent. We must also take care of the health of drivers, transporters and others involved.

A few foreign space agencies have slowly picked up their own launches. SpaceX has taken astronauts to the International Space Station. Do you see any of your launches on the horizon, now that lockdown restrictions have been relaxed?

We, too, are trying to do it with new strategies. For launch campaign activities at Sriharikota, there is a restriction on movement of people. We are seeing if some of these things can be done virtually.

All our systems are interlinked [across centres]. Before a launch, elaborate checks must be done on launch vehicle systems. A launch vehicle expert must travel from Thiruvananthapuram to the Sriharikota launch centre. Teams from Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Ahmedabad must also be there. Right now we are working on how to make it happen and what best we can do.

In the present conditions, can we transfer the data through secure network? Can our people assess the pre-launch situation at Sriharikota from Thiruvanthapuram itself? Which activities and how much can we do in a virtual mode? These are some possibilities we are exploring.

To what extent do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has hit your annual plan of missions? Sometime in March, GISAT-1 was to have been the first domestic launch of 2020 but it got deferred.

As I said before, all projects which require industry support are affected. Activities like satellite launch and making rockets available are affected. Not only for the SSLV, it could be Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan[-3] or every project. It is all interlinked. For a launch to take place, launchpad related activities at Sriharikota are done, not by the personnel there but by people from Thiruvananthapuram. Those teams are not able to travel. However, whether it SSLV, Gaganyaan or Chandrayaan[-3,] every in-house activity is going on without a problem

Do you plan to reshuffle your projects and bring any of the more important communication or Earth observation projects forward?

Again, I must say we are unable to say anything now. For each mission, certain conditions have to be there. [It also depends on when] we can resume and work out a method of doing certain activities in a virtual mode and how much of it we can do.

All missions are important. So many missions were planned from May onwards and now everything is put on hold. There is little we can do now. Only when it normalises can we plan and prioritise them.

Will austerity and cost cuts because of the pandemic limit your missions for the year?

That may not affect our missions because we always re-prioritise missions dynamically. It is mainly about procurement activities. Whatever we procure is for the long term, not for missions coming up tomorrow. So [re-prioritising] is like adjusting the whole thing and using it for immediate requirement. Therefore, it should not have an impact.

What activities are going on at key centres such as the URSC, VSSC, SAC?

Actually as Team ISRO we have been quite active and busy. At the centres, all developmental activities are going on everywhere, for example, work related to electric propulsion [for satellites], semicryogenic engine stage, design of an advanced satellite and many other activities.

(Note: U.R.Rao Satellite Centre URSC, Bengaluru, assembles satellites. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, thiruvanahthapuram, is the rocket and propulsion hub. Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, develops the critical satellite payloads.)

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2020 10:34:16 PM |

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