India’s longest-range ballistic missile, Agni-V, will be inducted into the nuclear arsenal very soon, according to official sources. Agni-V is an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) with a range of over 5,000 km and can reach most parts of China. “It is a strategic asset which will act as a deterrent. We are at the fag end of the strategic project,” said an official with the Agni-V programme.
The official said the missile features the latest technologies for navigation and improved accuracy. Earlier variants of the Agni family of long-range missiles have already been deployed. Last month, the canisterised variant of the missile was successfully test-fired by the user, the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). A few more user trials are planned in the next few weeks. The Agni series of missiles constitute the backbone of India’s nuclear weapons delivery, which also includes the Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft. The submarine-based nuclear arsenal, which assures second strike capability in the face of the proclaimed No-First-Use policy, is taking shape. While one nuclear ballistic missile has been inducted, more submarines and longer range submarine-launched ballistic missiles are under various stages of development.
Indian Space Research Organisation will turn 50 next year. Dr K Radhakrishnan, ISROs former head who oversaw the Mars Orbiter Mission (popularly called ‘Mangalyaan’) – which established India as the first country to have a successful mission to Mars in its maiden attempt – gives an overview of the organisation’s performance and future goals in a conversation with Mr Sugandha Indulkar:
India’s satellite launch vehicles have proved their commercial value. What’s the next stage of development?
Global market for small satellites (below 500 kg) continues to be buoyant and our competitive edge for PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) needs to be sustained. GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) Mk3 has the prospect to place 4,000 kg communication satellites into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and it could be upgraded with semi-cryogenic stage to loft up to 6,500 kg. Meanwhile, advent of electric propulsion will replace hefty mass of chemical propulsion system and many of the upcoming communication satellites, domestic and foreign, might well be within this envelope. The new focus for development could be reusable orbital re-entry vehicle for cargo and human transportation between Earth and Moon within a decade.
In recent times what would you consider as the top achievements of ISRO? And its top failures?
Within a span of 50 days (5 May–23 June 2017), ISRO launched a PSLV, a GSLV and GSLV Mk3, successfully orbiting three classes of satellites namely Cartosat-2 (high resolution remote sensing), GSAT-9 (South Asian Satellite) and GSAT-19 (forerunner of next generation communication infrastructure). Failure of a PSLV after an unblemished record of 39 flights was a wake-up call for quality management, but ISRO came back with success in January 2018. Loss of communication with GSAT-6A was disquieting, but ISRO took swift actions to avert such failure modes in satellites in the pipeline. Recalling GSAT-11 (first satellite of India’s high power 6K satellite for nation-wide data connectivity) from the launch base is a case in point. ISRO had a few failures of the Rubidium atomic clocks imported for IRNSS-1 series. Indigenous route for such highly accurate, ultra-stable atomic clocks is progressing well.
What are the concerns apart from funding that ail Indian space research? What solutions can you offer to overcome these problems?
ISRO’s precious human capital should be maximally earmarked for cutting edge research in pristine domains of space exploration, development in frontiers of space technology and innovations in space applications. We need a national industrial entity to take charge of producing and servicing the growing domestic needs for operational satellites and launch vehicles, with minimal hand-holding from experts of ISRO. We have an excellent base in the country of nearly 150 firms to count upon for this mammoth task, but the challenge is their elevating themselves to handle higher levels of value chain, and to orchestrate towards an ecosystem to deliver the mission as ISRO does today.
How long will India take to enter the arena of commercial space travel?
India has to venture into the next logical step for human presence in solar system. What we need is a national intent and road map for human spaceflight to the Earth’s orbit, Moon and then maybe at a later date to Mars – that is fundamental to India’s positioning among the space comity in the future.
Coming to specifics, ISRO has done extensive studies and taken a few baby steps in critical new technologies and re-entry and recovery experiment of unmanned crew module. ISRO is now quite active on the next steps forward. My assessment is that, given a national mandate, India could target the first human space flight within next 6-7 years or even earlier if international cooperation is feasible.
US is the undisputed leader when it comes to space research. How long do you think India will take to at least equal its achievements?
We are not in any space race. Each nation has its own vision, road map and priorities for space activity, consistent with their needs, aspirations and resources.
Global media talks about intellectual and technical cooperation between nations when it comes to space research. Is this realistic?
Space missions are quite large, complex and risky, besides the large gestation time and associated costs. Hence partnerships – bilateral or multilateral – have come to stay even while competition exists. The cardinal consideration is individual partner’s strengths and ease of working.
What was the most challenging moment in your tenure as chairman of ISRO?
Obviously, the Mars Orbiter Mission with all its complexities and the self-imposed schedule to fly it in 2013. The second challenge was flying GSLV successfully, that too with Indian cryogenic stage. Thirdly, development of GSLV Mk3 and its maiden experimental flight along with an unmanned crew module was a new terrain to traverse.
Airbus now owns a 50.01% majority stake in C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership, while Bombardier and Investissement Québec own approximately 34% and 16% respectively. CSALP’s head office, primary assembly line and related functions are based in Mirabel, Québec. Airbus’ global reach and scale combine with Bombardier’s state-of-the-art jet aircraft in the C Series, now being produced in a partnership between Airbus and Bombardier. Airbus manufactures, markets, and supports C Series aircraft under the aegis of the Airbus-Bombardier partnership, with Bombardier’s two C Series jetliners being brought into the Airbus commercial aircraft line-up. These airplanes fill an important niche – covering the segment that typically accommodates 100-150 seats – and responding to a worldwide aviation market for smaller single-aisle jetliners estimated at some 6,000 such aircraft over the next 20 years. Series aircraft have been specifically designed for the 100 -150 seat market, resulting in efficiencies inherent in purpose-built aircraft with an unmatched environmental scorecard. What’s more, the CS100 and CS300 have over 99 percent parts commonality between them, as well as the same pilot type rating, facilitating the family’s addition to an airline’s fleet. Up to 5,440 kg lighter than their competitors, C Series jetliners were designed using state-of-the-art computational aerodynamics combined with 21st century supercomputing capability; the result is a family of aircraft with optimal aerodynamic performance and reduced drag. Powering the aircraft are twin Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500G geared turbofan engines specifically designed for this jetliner product line. With a bypass ratio of 12:1 – one of the highest of any turbofan engine in the world – the engines feature 20 percent lower fuel burn per seat than previous generation aircraft, half the noise footprint, and decreased emissions. Together, the C Series represents the most efficient aircraft in the skies in their class, with up a low cost per trip, as well as the lowest noise levels of any commercial jet in production. This makes the C Series aircraft ideal for urban operations and noise-sensitive airports C Series aircraft are designed to deliver the feel of a widebody jetliner in a single-aisle aircraft. The cabin provides space where it matters the most, leading to an unparalleled passenger experience. Overhead bins, with the largest stowage capacity in their class, are easily accessible. The windows, extra large and plentiful with more than one at each row, are positioned high on the cabin sidewall to provide an optimal viewing angle and an abundance of natural light. Wide seats –18 inches or more – provide personal space without compromise, and the newly designed engines contribute to the quietest cabin in the C Series’ class.
US aerospace giant Boeing and Embraer are in “advanced negotiations” over a much-anticipated tie-up, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer said. The proposed merger, which would need the go-ahead from the Brazilian government, would leave Boeing as the majority partner, according to Brazilian newspaper Valor. Embraer would, however, keep sole control of its military activities. Valor said the two aircraft manufacturers had “already prepared the memorandums of understanding and requested a meeting to present” their project to the Brazilian government.
A ₹250-crore Civil Aviation Research Organisation (CARO) will come up within 18 months at Begumpet in Hyderabad. Laying the foundation stone for the CARO project to be implemented under the Airports Authority of India, Union Civil Aviation Minister Mr Suresh Prabhu said the focus of the centre will be on pursuing inter-disciplinary solutions to improve the civil aviation sector. The Minister said, “The country’s civil aviation sector is growing at a hectic pace of over 20 per cent and we expect this growth momentum to continue. This would require significant improvement to the existing infrastructure and creation of new infrastructure to keep pace with the progress.” The Government is in an advanced stage of finalisation of a cargo policy which will play a complementary role to the civil aviation policy. The idea is to use the airport infrastructure and vacant spaces in airport area in a more efficient manner and promote movement of cargo when there is less traffic, he said. The Government is keen to further accelerate the growth of the aviation sector, which has immense potential and make it accessible to the common man. This would require creation of fresh capacity and infrastructure to keep pace with the growing demand. Safety, convenience of passengers is a prime concern while keeping pace with the growth. The new research centre is expected to play a role in developing solutions and addressing problems airports currently face, the Minister explained. AAI CARO Division has already entered into agreements with Mitre Inc of USA, Honeywell Technology Solutions, Boeing Industries, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi to facilitate collaborative research. The CARO Phase-I will have a built up area of around 40,000 sq meters and include laboratories, simulators, residential and hostel facilities and accommodate about 600 R&D personnel in the phase I.
A recent news report – ‘Monsoon Covers the Entire Country 17 Days Ahead of Schedule’ – must have been music to Professor Roddam Narasimha’s ears. One can easily imagine the connoisseur of Indian classical music enjoying the monsoon showers, listening to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s sonorous voice: “Mile sur mera tumhara… Baadalon ka roop lekar, barse halke halke”. July is a special month for Prof Narasimha. Born on July 20, he will turn 85 in less than a fortnight. Besides, it was on July 27, 1994 that then director of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) CNR Rao inaugurated the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (CAOS) at IISc – a department that Prof Narasimha conceived of, way back in the 1980s. Prof Narasimha is ‘DST Year-of-Science Chair Professor’ at the Engineering Mechanics Unit of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) in Jakkur. CAOS While the monsoon has many chasers now, back in the 70s, Prof Narasimha once recalled, there were hardly any scientists studying the phenomenon. With his expertise in fluid dynamics and aerospace engineering and his interest in monsoon clouds – an offshoot of a childhood fascination – Prof Narasimha requested Satish Dhawan, the then director of IISc, and his mentor to allow him to bring together scientists within the country to work on this fascinating inter disciplinary area of atmospheric sciences. He thus sowed the seeds for the country’s first Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, later to be rechristened CAOS at IISc. Prof Narasimha scouted for talent and brought together Dr Sikka, Dr Sulochana Gadgil, Dr J Srinivasan and Dr Sankara Rao, the core working group, each scientist complementing the other in their areas of specialisation. More scientists from around the country would later join the team. With government funding coming in, Prof Narasimha proposed MONTBLEX (Monsoon Trough Boundary Layer Experiment), which involved extensive experiments in the IndoGangetic Plains, with stations in Balasore, Jodhpur, Delhi, Benares and Kharagpur. The experimental set-ups were all home-built; a majority of the components were sourced from the local electronics market. Prof Narasimha recalled that it was the first time that microprocessor chips were used in their electronic circuitry and to ensure that there were no glitches in the experiments, which were to be carried out in the harshest of environments – the extreme heat of the Jodhpur desert area and extreme humidity in the Balasore sea zones – they convinced the microprocessor supplier to send in a technician to handle emergencies. With these efforts, and the first satellite images beamed back by early ISRO satellites, the scientists were able to eventually predict several hitherto unknown aspects of the Indian monsoon. Their painstaking work resulted in the discovery of the northwards movement of the monsoon trough, christened the “30-40 days mode”, based on the number of days it took the monsoon trough to move from the southern to the northern parts of the country. Father of the LCA Among the many unknown facets of Prof Narasimha is that he is the father of the light combat aircraft (LCA), also known as TEJAS. It was he who suggested that the country needs an aircraft with short flying range but maximum performance. He made a presentation to this effect in 1979 to the Indian Air Force. His proposal was supported and taken forward by the defence ministry, thanks in many ways to Prof Raja Ramanna. Thus, the LCA project was born. But Prof Narasimha wanted the country to have capabilities, not just in fighter aircraft, the mainstay of our air force, but also civilian aircraft. With his experience and expertise in aerospace engineering, he advocated the use of Carbon Fiber Composites (CFC) for which he successfully put together a team of scientists which eventually mastered this new composite material technology. The Flosolver: It was under the stewardship of Prof Narasimha, when he was director of the National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), now National Aerospace Laboratories, in 1984-1993 that work began on the first-generation Flosolver. He suggested that it was necessary to “design, develop, fabricate and use a suitable parallel processing computer for application to fluid dynamics and aerodynamical problems”. Prof Narasimha groomed a brilliant young scientist, Dr UN Sinha, and his team and they came up with the Mark-1 Flosolver, the first high speed parallel processing computer built in the country. In a career spanning five decades, Prof Narasimha straddled many fields. His stint as director of National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, gave us insights into his deep commitment to the cause of India’s security vis-a-vis our nuclear programme. He also became interested in the ‘history of science’, in philosophy and in the task of enriching the leadership in industry, government and public affairs.
Even as the Indian Air Force has got the Defence Ministry’s nod to get the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas’s price reviewed by a committee following reports that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL) has quoted an exorbitant price for the MK-1A version of the aircraft, the Bengaluru- headquartered defence Public Sector Undertaking has defended its price tag. Defence Minister Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman last week said that a committee had been formed to look into the cost of products manufactured by defence Public Sector Undertakings and among the first products that would be examined is the LCA MK-1A. HAL had in April reportedly quoted Rs 463 crore for LCA MK-1A which is said to be more expensive than the frontline fighter Sukhoi 30 Mki or other fighter jets of the Tejas’s class.The committee, headed by Defence Ministry’s Director of Costs, has been given 60 days time to review the cost of the LCA MK-1A. HAL has a Request for Proposal to supply of 83 LCA MK-1A aircraft. The production of the 83 LCA MK-1A aircraft will start after the first 40 aircraft which will be the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) configuration aircraft order is completed. The production will happen from 2019-2020 onwards. An HAL official, while defending the quoted price, said that the LCA MK-1A aircraft will have many advance features which include Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, additional electronic warfare suite, special data link packages, self protection jammer, satellite navigation systems, improved flight control, electrical and electronics system among others”. “The LCA MK-1A with all these hi-tech features will be a 4.5 generation aircraft and it is unfair to compare it with cost of the Sukhoi 30 Mki which is a fourth generation aircraft. Besides the production of the 83 aircraft will start in 2019-2020 or there after the production cost during this period will be higher than it is now,” the official said. To manufacture the 83 Tejas MK -1A aircraft and speed up the production of the aircraft from 8 to 15 per year, HAL has readied a second assembly line which was earlier used to manufacture Hawk trainer aircraft.
Aviation security watchdog BCAS has finalised a strategy to neutralise drones near airports, with the government set to unveil a framework to regulate unmanned aircraft systems in the country. The counter-drone plan prepared by a committee headed by Director General of BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) Kumar Rajesh Chandra has proposed neutralising drones through a “soft kill” approach which will include entrapping or jamming drones instead of destroying them. The strategy deals with drones operating near aerodromes as the body is mandated to ensure aviation security. The Ministry of Home Affairs may prepare a separate plan to deal with drone attacks in sensitive zones such as Parliament, said a government official. The official added that a “soft kill” approach instead of a hard kill approach has been suggested because destroying a drone with a payload of explosives or biochemical will result in an attack and serve the purpose of their handlers. Therefore, the official said, the best approach is to entrap them and not destroy them. The Ministry of Civil Aviation had released draft rules for unmanned aircraft systems in November last year and proposed to ban their operation within 5 km radius of an airport and 50 km from an international border. It also barred drones within 5 km radius of Vijay Chowk in New Delhi. The BCAS will now conduct a trial to examine effective technology to neutralise drones, following which it will prepare technical specifications.
- ISRO is gearing up for full-fledged commercial launches from September onwards
- A PSLV rocket will be launched in that month solely for foreign satellites
- The full-fledged commercial mission is scheduled after many years
To compete with rivals in the satellite launch market, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is gearing up for full-fledged commercial launches from September onwards. A PSLV rocket will be launched in that month solely for foreign satellites. Talking to TOI, ISRO chairman K Sivan said here, “Of various missions lined up this year, the first launch will be of a PSLV rocket in September that will solely be for commercial purpose. Two UK satellites weighing 450 kg each will be the main payload. UK will use these satellites for earth observation. There will not be any Indian satellite.” Sivan said, “Subsequent two PSLV missions will also carry foreign satellites. However those missions will be on sharing mode (it will also have a desi satellite).” The full-fledged commercial mission is scheduled after many years. On April 23, 2007, ISRO had for the first time launched a rocket solely for commercial purpose. Its PSLV-CA carried Italy’s astronomical satellite AGILE as the main payload. Thereafter, on July 10, 2015, ISRO achieved another milestone when it carried out the heaviest commercial mission successfully as its PSLV-XL lifted off with five UK satellites together weighing 1,439 kg. Antrix, ISRO’s commercial arm, is widely seen as a serious contender in the global satellite market due to low prices and high success rate of the PSLV rocket, which is ISRO’s reliable workhorse. Of the 43 launches till now since 1993, the PSLV was unsuccessful in only three missions with a success rate of 94%. The rocket had completed various difficult and versatile missions like launching satellites in different orbits in one mission to lifting off 104 satellites in one go. Till now, ISRO has launched 237 foreign satellites of 28 countries. ISRO is, therefore, making all efforts to be competitive and wants to capture a lion’s share in the global market. Unfortunately, ISRO still holds a miniscule 0.6% share in the global satellite launch market, which is estimated to be worth Rs 36,000 crore. On the other hand, Elon Musk-owned US private space agency SpaceX, which had 5% share in the commercial satellite launch market in 2013, continued to grow and gobbled up 45% share in 2017 due to its cheap and reusable rockets. It is projected to eat up 60% share this year. The US government-owned space agency NASA and Space X together capture over 65% of the market share, followed by European space agency Arianespace.
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Navy programme, which has been lying low for almost a year, has once again taken to the skies. It was reportedly kept on hold after Indian Navy rejected the project, saying that it did not suit the requirements. Pictures of LCA Naval Prototype (NP-2), with an arrester hook, has been doing rounds for the last few days, indicating that the programme has been revived. NP-2 took to the skies on July 23 and this was the 56th flight of the jet’s technology demonstrator. Importantly, this flight of the prototype was the first since March 2017. The Bengaluru-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the nodal design and development agency of the LCA programme, confirmed that a successful test was carried out on July 23. NP-2, a single-seat fighter, is one of the two technology demonstrators of the LCA Navy programme, with the other one being NP-1, a two-seat aircraft. In 2016, questions were raised about the future of the LCA’s Naval variant after Navy chief Sunil Lanba said that the aircraft wouldn’t suit its aircraft carriers. He even said the Navy was looking for an alternative solution. Since then, questions have been raised about the future of LCA Naval programme and the number of test sorties has also come down drastically. The last test flight, involving NP-1, was in May 2017. The LCA Naval programme commenced in 2003 and the first flight of NP-1 was in 2012, and the maiden flight of NP-2 in 2015. The flight of NP-2, with an arrester hook, assumes significance as it indicates that the aircraft is now readying itself for tests in the days to come at a designated facility in Goa. NP 2 is the lead aircraft for arrestor hook integration, according to sources.
The aircraft’s technical features
- LCA will operate from an Aircraft Carrier with a concept of Ski-jump Take off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR). Aircraft gets airborne over a ski jump in about 200 m and lands 90 m using an arrester hook
- Derived from the Air Force version it is a longitudinally unstable fly-by-wire aircraft, making it an agile war machine.
- Flight Control system is augmented with Leading Edge Vortex Controller (LEVCON), helping reduction in approach speed for Carrier Landing
- Auto-throttle function reduces pilot load by maintaining constant angle of attack during the critical phase of a flare-less carrier landing
- Fuel Dump System enables safe landing by reducing weight in event of an emergency landing immediately after launch from carrier