The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has stepped up its activities to involve to its rockets and satellites. While the space agency is gearing up for the shift, it is also facing internal challenges — it lost a rocket and satellite due to technical issues and was forced to return a satellite from the launch site in French Guyana for further tests. These issues are being addressed, K Sivan tells ET. Edited excerpts:

There have been several setbacks…
There were issues with the heat shield separation in the PSLV. We have addressed that and you have seen its subsequent successful launch. In GSAT-6A, there could be a power issue. A spark could have led to a short circuit. In the last three satellites — GSAT-6, RISAT and GSAT-6A — we have shifted to a higher-powered satellite bus. We saw there were similar problems in RISAT after it completed its life.

Will there be a replacement satellite for GSAT-6A? Why was GSAT-11 brought back?
Right now, we are not planning, because GSAT-6 itself is doing the service. It was a standby satellite. As for GSAT-11, there is no issue in the satellite. It has to undergo a critical pressure test. So, we brought it back (from Kourou, French Guyana). When we built the Mars Orbiter, because of the sensitive sensors in the spacecraft, we did not do that test for it. Somehow, since then, the critical pressure test was stopped for other satellites. It made sense for us to bring the satellite, do the test and make sure it will function well. After this, we will send the satellite for launch.

There is a shortage of satellites…
We need 4 satellites. If I have to do in the rate we built over the past years, it will take many years and demand for new satellites will come. We are now increasing our launches. We are looking at 18 satellites a year. We are taking two approaches — going to industry to help us manufacture satellites and we are asking our people to work in two shifts so their productivity increases. This is being done without compromising on quality.

How are you bringing the private industry to build satellites?
We have begun offering work packages so that they can do subassembly and systems. The industry still has not matured where we can transfer the full satellite technology. It will take three years for that. We want to help industry gain expertise before building satellites on their own. The quality and precision requirement is intense.

What is happening to the industry involvement in PSLV?
We are looking at including industry in the satellite launch vehicle. After the development flights are over, this vehicle will be totally produced by the industry. Antrix (Isro’s commercial arm) is working on a model. The first flight will be before 2019.

Is there a funds crunch at Isro?
We don’t have a funds crunch. We have been spending less than the sanctioned amount. It is true we are not utilising the funds for the budget estimates that we are submitting. But whenever we have revised our budgets, the government has given us funds.



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