India’s new space agency chief’s ‘biggest challenge’ will be human spaceflight

The new head of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has an ambitious agenda to get manned spaceflight back on track, according to media reports.

Shri. Somanath assumed command of the agency on Friday (Jan 14) as ISRO works to help the Gaganyaan human spaceflight program recover from setbacks induced in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2019 failure of the satellite component. Chandrayaan 2 lunar mission landing.

Previously, officials wanted a manned launch to take place in August 2022, around the 75th anniversary of modern India’s independence. But in April 2021, a government minister said that flight will not happen before 2023.

One of ISRO’s outgoing chief K. Sivan’s final messages to staff said there is a feeling that less has been happening at the space agency in 2021, “mainly due to fewer launches,” according to the Indian Express.

That said, the Express stated that there is a growing perception in the Indian space community that ISRO is more focused on “generating publicity and political mileage, to please the government, rather than science and engineering.” The “biggest challenge” Somanath will face, the report added, will be getting the Gaganyaan program moving forward again.

Somanath has spoken about the challenges of human spaceflight, including at the annual conference of the Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine in September 2018, the Express said. “It’s quite easy to launch a person into space, but quite difficult to bring them back,” Somanath told the conference.

Somanath was previously director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, a major rocket and space research center for ISRO, according to an agency statement. ISRO describes him as “an expert in the area of ​​launch vehicle systems engineering.”

The agency praised Somanath for his contributions to the now-popular Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, which made its 50th launch in 2019. Some of the most famous payloads to fly aboard the PSLV include the Chandrayaan-1 in lunar orbit which confirmed ice on the lunar surface and the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM, or Mangalyaan).

ISRO said Somanath is also notable for his work on the booster for the Mk III geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle, which launched Chandrayaan-2, whose orbiter is still operating around the moon.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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