Who is S Somanath, the new chief of ISRO?
S Somanath was on Wednesday named the new chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the space secretary, as per an order issued by the central government. Somanath will replace K Sivan, who is due to retire on Friday. Somanath is currently the director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC). The senior rocket scientist will hold the position for three years.
Why does this story matter?
- The ISRO is India's apex agency for space exploration, space-based applications, and the development of associated technology.
- ISRO's programs have aided India's socio-economic development in several ways and also assisted both civilian and military domains.
- Somanath's appointment comes at a time when ISRO has successfully completed a 720-second qualifying test of the cryogenic engine for the Gaganyaan program in Tamil Nadu.
Somanath aims to 'create space enterprise in India'
Speaking to reporters, Somanath said that he intends to expand India's space program. "The primary responsibility is to create a space enterprise in the country where all stakeholders come together to expand the space program in the country on a bigger scale and align the overall space program with the mission of the government," he said.
Similarities between Sivan and Somanath
Sivan and Somanath's careers have taken similar journeys. They both graduated from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru with a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering. They were both directors of the VSSC and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) prior to taking over the leadership of ISRO. The two have also worked on the Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) program as project directors.
Somanath had joined VSSC in 1985
Somanath (58) has a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the TKM College of Engineering. A Kerala native, Somanath had joined the VSSC back in 1985. Between 1995 and 2002, he worked on projects including the Polar Space Launch Vehicle's (PSLV) integration and served as the PSLV's project manager. In 2003, he became the GSLV Mark III's deputy project director.
Other achievements of Somanath
Somanath is responsible for 11 successful PSLV liquid-stage missions. He was leading a team that worked on a throttleable engine for the Vikram lander—the first mission by ISRO with an orbiter—which was utilized in the Chandrayaan II mission in 2019. Somanath is a fellow of the Astronomical Society of India and a corresponding member of the International Academy of Astronauts.
Gaganyaan: A first-of-its-kind human space mission
The Gaganyaan, the first manned space mission by India, is scheduled to launch in 2023. After the US, Russia, and China, India will become the fourth country in the world to undertake a human spaceflight mission. ISRO has said that the performance of the engine has met test objectives and the engine characteristics were quite close to the estimates.