In recognition of his outstanding contributions in developing Science and Technology and its applications, A.S. Kiran Kumar, Chairman of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), was conferred the Padma Shri in 2014. Kumar has contributed immensely towards the design and development of more than 50 Electro-Optical Imaging Sensors flown on Space borne platforms starting from Bhaskara TV payload in 1979 to the payloads onboard the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in 2013, and the latest Cartosat 2 series payloads of 2016. He speaks with Srija Naskar on the occasion of him being conferred the prestigious “Gujar Mal Modi Scientist of the Year” at Sri Sathya Sai International Centre, Lodhi Road.
Q. What are ISRO’s future plans?
A. Immediately we have a launch of a satellite called INSAT 3DR which will provide vertical temperature and humidity profile and it will also take images around India, every half an hour, in 6 different wavelengths, in imager and sounder. Then we also have a satellite measuring the ocean wind vector which is an extremely important input for numerical weather forecasting and this information will be provided to the entire global community. Then we have a geostationary communication satellite which is already at the launchpad waiting for a launch on October 4. Besides that, we have a number of missions which will actually enable more apt observation and communication. We have one such satellite called GSAT- 11 which will provide 32 beams over India, 16 beams in two polarization, which will help in increasing the broadband connectivity, and so forth.
Q. Tell us about ISRO’s Indian human space program. When do you think will a human be able to finally fly an ISRO vehicle?
A. In human space program, right now we are only doing what we call critical technology development, like spacesuit where we had three of the vehicles which was orbiting, came back to our crew and re-entry module. But first of all, the government has to give a clearance for a man mission. At this point of time we are only developing the intrinsic capability. So as and when the government gives a clearance, we’ll work on them.
Q. When will ISRO be able to send cargos to International Space Station (ISS) and become a part of that elite league?
A. Currently, we have started work on heavy lift vehicles. We have later this year, capacity launch vehicle with our own cryogenic engine getting developed. Now we are working on semi-cryo engines and cluster engines. Once they start operating, then we will be in a position to send cargos to ISS.
Q. What do you think are the imminent technical challenges that are to be met to send cargos to to ISS?
A. Right now our technical challenge is, firstly, building capacity within the country to do more frequent launches. Secondly, developing these semi-cryo engines and cluster engines so that heavy lifts can be achieved.
Q. Now that SpaceX has developed a reusable stage and they are doing flights to prove its reliability, according to space economists, in a few years, SpaceX will deliver satellites at a cheaper rate than what ISRO offers. How is ISRO planning to meet such a challenge?
A. If you recall, we did an experiment called “reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator”, we are also working on an air-breathing engine. So we are also looking at ways and means by which we can bring down the costs of access to space. We did the RLV-TD couple of months back, air-breathing engines we are going to use shortly. We are also in the process of improving our ability to reduce the costs.
Q. You played a crucial role in Chandrayaan-I mission right from the conceptualization stage and have made made expemplary contributions to the success of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The nation wants to know, when is ISRO planning the much awaited next moon mission?
A. The next moon mission, Chandrayaan-II should ideally happen by the end of next year.