India’s space exploration journey, marked by resourcefulness and economic engineering, is at a juncture where increased funding and more robust rocket systems are essential for further progress, according to K Sivan, the former chief of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation).
While Chandrayaan-3, India’s third lunar mission, was launched on July 14 and is set to make contact with the Moon’s surface by August 23, Russia embarked on its lunar mission on August 10, with a planned landing on August 21.
The discrepancy in mission durations can be attributed to India’s utilization of a slingshot manoeuvre—a technique that harnesses Earth’s gravitational force to propel a spacecraft along its path. In contrast, Russia employed a more powerful rocket to directly position the satellite into lunar orbit.
During an interview with NDTV, K Sivan emphasized the need for larger rockets and advanced systems. He stressed that India must transition beyond frugal engineering and embrace high-thrust rockets and cutting-edge technology. Sivan hailed the government’s move to involve private industries in space activities as a positive step towards achieving this goal.
Sivan noted the growing interest from the private sector and the encouraging progress already underway. He expressed confidence that these entities will soon be equipped to engage in advanced technology with financial support no longer posing a hindrance.
The former ISRO chief also expressed optimism about India’s ambitious Gaganyaan mission—the country’s first manned space endeavor. He envisioned the successful execution of this mission as a stepping stone towards even grander projects, including a lunar space station and other significant ventures.
Reflecting on the historic discovery of lunar water by Chandrayaan-1 in 2009, Sivan described it as a moment of exhilaration for the entire ISRO community. He highlighted the joy in proving the presence of something previously thought to be absent.
Sivan underscored the importance of rockets in ISRO’s evolution, from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), and now to the Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM3). He emphasized that quality and reliability distinguish space systems and play a pivotal role in mission success, given the one-time opportunity for these systems to function in their designated environment.
Regarding India’s independent development of cryogenic engines despite external pressure, Sivan highlighted their role in enhancing payload capabilities. He traced the nation’s journey from collaborating with Russia on similar engines to successfully creating potent cryogenic engines. Ongoing work on semi-cryogenic engine technology further solidifies India’s position in this arena.
When questioned about the exploration of reusable rockets akin to SpaceX’s achievements, Sivan disclosed ongoing technology demonstrations for vertical landings. He envisioned the potential development of such rockets once these demonstrations yield positive outcomes.
Sivan concluded by reaffirming ISRO’s commitment to gender equality and equal opportunities for all. He urged young Indians to nurture a scientific temperament that could contribute to transformative discoveries shaping the nation’s future.