A Difficult Task – Splitting ISRO and NSIL

me: I made an error in understanding this. I leave this here for record. But, I have corrected this on my newsletter.

I write a weekly newsletter on an Indian perspective to space stuff every Thursday. The edition that I sent out last Thursday (March 11) was a space policy edition.

I specifically covered a report tabled in the Rajya Sabha by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change.

Department of Space Organisation Chart. Image: ISRO.

The Standing Committee asked DoS about the role of India’s space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with the entrance of NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL). The Department replied stating that missions such as Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan and advanced technology mission would be carried on by ISRO and the rest would go to NSIL. This answer was presented to Parliament in February 2021. The Standing Committee published the report on 8 March 2021.

It is based on this answer that I said in the newsletter that:

This means that ISRO is going through a period of change as it commercializes parts of it’s operations (PSLV, GSLV, SSLV etc.) and focuses on research. This section thus marks a very important turning point in it’s journey. As shared in this PTI story, NSIL also has ambitions of building satellites and payloads. This would mean parts of works done in each center of ISRO will be commercialized and spun-off into NSIL.

Pradeep’s Space Newsletter #20

On 12 March 2021, NSIL held a press conference (NSIL press note). Here, they announced that they are planning to take over ISRO’s fleet of communications and remote sensing satellites.

I must admit I did not see the satellites bit coming. This is no small task. Managing such a fleet of satellites would need the kind of human resources and expertise that is currently only available at ISRO.

Splitting technical and human resources between ISRO and NSIL will be no small task. This is the turning point that I am referring to in the paragraph above.

DoS had put out a request for proposals (RFPs) from the industry to see if any single or a consortium of industries could develop PSLV for NSIL. This process, they claimed during the press conference will take 6 to 8 months.

This leaves the space sector with several players with them not yet knowing what they have to do. There is Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), Antrix Corporation, Space Commission and the Department of Space. The Government will have the task of putting them in order to make the sector boom. A difficult task.

ISRO Land, Challakere

Challakere is a town in Karnataka which is roughly 3.5 hour drive North East of Bengaluru. This is a place where a ₹2,700 crore plan to build India’s Human Space Flight Center (HSFC). This was where some of the tests for Chandrayaan 3 are being done.

Tender Notice to clear Bellary Jali

As usual, this news comes not from ISRO but from a tender notice posted on ISRO’s website. Based on this, I looked at the area on Google Maps. I found a few things that I shared on r/ISRO. As is usual, this is not a new discovery.

This is land allocated to ISRO in Science City. Hence, you can see the campuses for Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and even Bhaba Atomic Research Station (BARC).

Marked in blue is the ISRO Land, Chalakkere. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

You can also see the plans that were shared for the construction of this land here. Essentially, the land where we did these tests will be built over by the HSFC.

Chandrayaan-3 tests

Marked with blue arrows are craters created at ISRO Land where testing was done for Chandrayaan 2 and 3. Image credit: Pradeep Mohandas

These craters are for what are called the Lander Sensor Performance Test (LSPT). LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were conducted for Chandrayaan-2. The tender is for clearing the green swathes that you see. It is apparently full of a shrub called Bellary Jali which needs to be cleaned up before tests for Chandrayaan-3 can be conducted.

Details of LSPT-1 and LSPT-2 were shared in Upagrah Apr-Jun 2017 issue (archived in Google Docs by u/Ohsin). This is the in-house magazine for U R Rao Satellite Center (URSC).

The test involves flying a Beechcraft Super King Air B-200 belonging to the National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) over the craters made for the purpose. The plane flew from 500 m to 7 km in altitude to simulate various landing conditions. They also flew early in the morning to get the same lighting conditions as on the landing site on the Moon.

RLV Landing Experiment near Chitradurga

There was mention of a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) Landing Experiment at Chitradurga.

Snippet mentioning the RLV Landing Experiment in the ISRO Annual Report 2020-21.

Interesting term in the picture above is the pseudolite (pseudo-satellite).

While exploring the surrounding of Challakere, I spotted this, which could be a possible runway to which the RLV will glide and land on.

Possible RLV landing site near Chitradurga – Chitradurga Aeronautical Test Range belonging to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (ATR-DRDO). Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This blog post is a small effort to read documents and share with you the possible rabbit holes. Following them is up to you.