A First Step to better Space Situational Awareness

It was three years after the Kargil war in 1998. It was more than a month after the deadly attacks of September 11. A Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrying a satellite with possible military applications was launched from India’s space port, Sriharikota.

Cover of the Jan-Mar 2003 edition of Space India. Source: ISRO.

The armed forces wanted a way to watch the border with Pakistan. The satellite launched on-board the PSLV-C3 mission had a capability to see vehicles on the ground (1 m resolution) and could hence help spot infiltration bids by military or terrorists from across the border from Pakistan.

This was the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES). The launch took place without much fanfare.

But, this mission had a more lasting impact than just this important near-term national security mission. Flying with TES, were the Belgian PROBA and the German BIRD satellites. The PSLV after placing TES and BIRD in circular orbits, moved using its yaw RCS thrusters to place PROBA in an elliptical orbit. Each of these customers paid India $1 million for the mission. This was a big deal then, being just the second commercial mission that India was flying.

PSLV-C3 sequence of satellite separation. Illustration in the Space India edition Oct-Dec 2001.

This demonstrated PSLV capability to place multiple satellites in multiple orbits. So, the primary satellite could be placed in one orbit while the ride-share satellites could fly to the same or other orbits.

Within a couple of months of the launch, the fourth stage of the satellite broke-up on 19 December, 2002. A paper written for the 34th Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly held in Houston, USA, by P Bandopadhyay, R Sharma and V Adimurthy identified the cause as explosion. They predicted that 75% of the debris would decay in the Earth’s atmosphere by end-2002.

In the Space Situational Assessment 2021 that ISRO released yesterday, they shared that 76 (almost 20%) of the 386 debris pieces from the PSLV-C3 fourth stage explosion still remain in orbit.

Although ISRO knew that passivation was important, this mission seems to have prompted active ISRO efforts towards passivation of upper stages of launch vehicles and spacecrafts of ISRO. This 2019 paper by Santosh Kosambe throws light on these efforts to reduce the contribution of space debris because of ISRO launches.

A K Ganeshan, then with the Flight Dynamics Center at ISRO Satellite Center (now, U R Rao Satellite Center) wrote a piece about space debris in the January to the March 2003 edition. This, seems to be one of the first public write-ups on the issue published by ISRO.

Ganeshan and Adimurthy (from the 2002 COSPAR paper above) wrote a paper together in Acta Astronautica in February 2006. This seems to be a seminal paper in the active efforts ISRO took in reducing space debris.

The Space Situational Assessment shares important information about Indian assets (spacecraft and Indian space debris) in orbit broadly. It shares the methods by which ISRO tracks these objects (optical telescopes and radar). It also shares the debris avoidance maneuvers it has performed to protect Indian space assets (satellites and even the Chandrayaan-II orbiter).

Sharing this important information publicly is an important first step. Transparently sharing this information with data (two-line elements) would be the logical next step.

ISRO has been building this capability with a series of optical telescopes and radars to be installed for monitoring. This would be the basic institutional infrastructure required since India is responsible, as per international law, for accidents in space caused due to Indian space assets (spacecraft and debris).

My former colleague at Takshashila, Aditya Pareek and I had written a piece in The Wire Science asking for more involvement from the open-source intelligence community. ISRO must encourage the growth of this talent in India. The sharing of the data with two-line elements will help the development and growth of an Indian community.

India has also begun the process of opening up the space sector for private companies. As private companies build spacecraft and launch vehicles, there would be an increase in the number of space assets to be monitored. While ISRO built infrastructure can monitor these, Indian companies should also become part of the solution. Companies like LeoLabs show how private companies can help solve this problem.

As the number of Indian assets in space grows, it will become increasingly important to work with other space-faring nations which may endanger Indian assets or vice-versa.

In short, we will need institutional capability, amateur enthusiasts, private companies and collaboration with other space-faring nations to keep Indian assets in space safe and to reduce Indian liability in case of any space accidents.

Why I do not like my own voice?

Photo by Ku00fcbra Arslaner on Pexels.com

I have also had a love-hate relationship with music. Sometimes, literally. It was while learning music that I realized that I did not undergo a change usually available to boys. It left me with a lack of confidence in my voice.

The name of the change is violent. Breaking of the voice. My voice did not break, but my heart did. The first time that I remember.

While I forget the reason for joining the music class, I do remember why I kept going. I went to meet a girl. Most of our conversation was in innocent smiles. The love was never expressed. No words were exchanged. I would not classify it as romantic love. But, it was at a time when I was introduced to my hormones.

The love was shown in trying to match musical talent. The music teacher, who will soon turn villain in this story, was the judge. When either of us did well, he would speak words of encouragement. We would both smile to each other. He would make us sing once again in front of one or both of our mothers, who accompanied us to these classes. That was a special high.

My voice did not change. But, my music teacher thought that a change was coming and asked me to quit learning music. I moved to another music teacher and continued learning for another year. The shock of the request of my former teacher was such that I lost all love for music and in a couple of years, quit learning music.

It broke my heart to quit learning music. I feel I would be a totally different person today if I had continued learning music. But, later in life, this was an illustrative study in how deeply a teacher can affect the mind of a student.

The point of writing this post is not to blame the teacher, but to explain why I do not like my voice.

This loss of confidence in my own voice, led to me stop directing or playing a part in plays. This stopped me from volunteering to speak in elocutions, debates, presentations and speeches. This stopped me a few years ago from starting my own podcast. It stops me from speaking in Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse. This stops me from trying to put my voice in YouTube videos.

I speak only on occasions where the idea overpowers the voice.

A Meetup in March

I could not find my black Pilot V5 pen. No, that’s wrong. I did not go looking for my black Pilot V5 pen. On the days that I do not write in my analog Bullet Journal, I find myself out of control.

I write to think. I write to connect the ideas. Only a few bread crumbs of those ideas, find their way as a blog post on this blog. I want to write more because I want to think more. I want to think more to learn a little more about this world.

It was with this intention that I joined the Clear Writing course. I hoped that the course would improve my practice of writing. I did not want to make what I write better. I wanted to make myself write more here. I completed that course in January 2022.

The creator of the course had gone on a trip to Bengaluru to record a few episodes of his long-form podcast. He decided that he would take this opportunity to meet a few of his course participants while he was there. This made a few Punekars jealous and who decided to have their own meetup. With or without the creator of the course.

An announcement email went out. This was followed by expressions of interest in being a part of the meetup. With or without the creator of the course. The interest swelled in the email thread. For better planning and co-ordination, a WhatsApp group was created. About twelve people joined the group.

A political and economic institution was proposed as the location of the meetup. A Sunday morning was picked for the time. The pictures on Google Maps pointed to a British-era institution. This formed the basis of my decision for going for the meet-up. Meeting interesting people would be the cream between the biscuits. I don’t like the cherry on the cake.

I went for the buildings but I enjoyed the conversation with the people more.

Coming back to the meetup.

In the early hours of the morning of the meetup, the Punekar who had been jealous and had said we should meetup pulled out because of a family emergency. A huge question mark now hung on my bedroom ceiling. Should I get up early on a Sunday morning when the meetup may involve just me?

I think only those pictures of British-era buildings pushed me out of the bed and into the bathroom. Since, you the reader, would not want to know the details of my morning constitutional, let’s skip to the drive to the location.

I wanted to tip the hat the Creator of the Course, even if he would not be coming. So, I played one of his long-form podcast episodes while Google Aunty (I picked the female voice on the app) directed me to the location.

Google Aunty took me to a location that had the board of the place where I wanted to go but road blocks so that I could not go in. This could have been one of those rides where Google Aunty would take you to the back of someone’s cattle shed. But, the WhatsApp group had warned that the front gate of the institution was undergoing renovation and an alternative gate would be available to enter into the institution.

But, to the side of the under-renovation gate, I saw the beautiful (for a Mumbaikar) parking – ergo, paid – lot. I parked there.

I spent my slow walk to the campus of the institution frustrated by a building that hid the British-era buildings that I had hoped to see. The building housed a hotel (quite a famous one, it seems), a co-working space and a few start-ups or companies.

Then, I saw the well laid-out British-era buildings with sloping red roofs. The buildings were laid out as if space was not a constraint. I think most of the expectations from the trip was met when I saw the buildings.

Of the twelve who first expressed interest and joined the WhatsApp group, the leader fell to a family emergency, a couple fell to illnesses and the rest other than the four of us who turned up there were probably sleeping a few extra hours, it being a Sunday.

We moved from the extraordinary British-era campus to an open-air hotel serving breakfast. I was slightly disappointed by this move, but as if to make up for it, we went to the hotel from a gate at the back that allowed me to explore more of the campus.

In the hotel, I heard polite conversation, friends catching up after a week away from each other, morning strollers catching up on local gossip and friends meeting up after ages. Conversations happened in English, Hindi and Marathi. I heard a few words of Kannada but that was drowned out by the other languages.

Our conversation started with which cohorts we belonged to. There was a person here from the first cohort! As if to continue the trend, she was also here in the first meetup of the alumni in Pune.

The conversation mirrored the conversation outline of the long-form podcast. We broke ice with talking about ourselves. What we did, where we came from, what we wrote, where we wrote. Then, we moved on to anecdotes from our lives that we used to make points. We used the anecdotes to discuss various issues, micro and macro.

We spoke of running, cycling, walking, tekdis not being places where we were taken to, if kidnapped; how we are able to or not able to impact the world, the difference between the ideal and the real and much much more.

If we had spoken for a couple of hours more, I am sure we could have shipped an episode of the long-form podcast. As in the podcast, I wished we could speak more.

We got up from the table having decided to leave. But, we continued talking, as we settled the bills. We even stood right in front of the bill payment desk and spoke some more. We spoke. We did not take photographs. But, then everyone had some call. We parted with half-good-byes. Perhaps, to return, to continue the conversation. The next time I come for the meetup, I will probably come for the people.

The people at the meetup encouraged me to share some of the anecdotes I had shared there. I got the feeling that I must sometimes write of the everyday. This blog post is an exercise to do this. To write about the everyday. To repeat something that I said above, and I quote:

<start quote>I went for the buildings but I enjoyed the conversation with the people more.<stop quote>.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963, Audible – 2019)

I was watching a video on how to read a book effectively, from the YouTube channel, Think School. The video had the app, Kuku FM as a sponsor. The app provides book summaries in Hindi and Marathi.

I listened to the Hindi summary of the book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. This summary was brilliantly written and performed by Neeta Iyer. This pushed me enough to buy the book.

The book in English is essentially what could be a precursor to The Secret. It involves various examples of self-suggestion to solve various issues in your life. I tried it out and realised that it did not work for me, as didn’t The Secret. Of course, I am to blame for this.

Joseph Murphy had visited India and there are a few Indian references and anecdotes.

The only thing this helped me with was my paused Audible purchases. I am now back on the Audible bandwagon and listening more. Thank you for that, Joseph Murphy.

Energy Management in COVID-19 aftermath

I wanted to intersperse how I used energy management intuitively while I was recovering from COVID-19 in my previous blog post about energy management. But, I left that out so that I can link to the post while writing future blog posts about managing with energy rather than with time.

In my blog post about COVID-19, I had shared that I felt better energy-wise only after February 8, 2022. However, this was followed by difficulty in focusing on the task and bouts of tiredness. I was not able to work beyond 2 hour chunks of time. I had trouble comparing text or reading on Indian Philosophy. I could also not read lighter non-fiction or fiction.

I decided to let the amount of energy I had decide when I worked. I put aside all other tasks and decided to do only my primary work role. I worked for two hours and then rested for half-an-hour. This has continued for the last two weeks. This meant I had to work longer to cover my 8-hour work day.

It required a lot of sleep and plenty of water to recover energy-wise. As of today, I would still say that I have recovered only 95%. I still feel bouts of exhaustion ergo I can now work for a 3-4 hour block. As I did with the 2 hour chunks, I repeated the process for the 4 hours chunk.

I think this gave me the experience of working depending on my energy situation. Although, I learnt this intuitively, Matt’s video helped me structure my practice in a much better way.

Managing your Energy

Photo by Vlad Cheu021ban on Pexels.com

The above image represents what I think when people say you need to be energetic at work. Since I could not do this, I just gave up.

That was when I saw a video that YouTuber and productivity savior1, Matt D’Avella. The video is titled, “Why you’re so bad at managing time?” Do not be carried away by the title. It is an energy management video in the guise of a time management video.

YouTube video version of this article

Time Management was introduced by factories to make sure that workers worked like clockwork in the factory. Although many people work in factories today, many of us today are knowledge workers.

As I have said before in this blog, I do knowledge work. So, this is something that I want to try.

Matt says energy management works better than time management. He gives a few suggestions on how to work better as per your energy.

Find your peak performance period:

Matt says that everyone has a peak performance period. A time when they have the most energy. He suggests using a notebook or an app to track your energy daily. One can then identify their peak performance period. This time can change or stay the same.

Find how much energy your task requires:

This is also an estimation. Your estimation. How much energy do you need to do something. Split your tasks into high energy and low energy tasks.

Refill your cup:

Matt says, “rest is productive”. We should take rest before we get tired and not after we get tired.

Make flexible to-do lists:

The to-do list is where this energy management comes into action. Do tasks that take most energy during your high energy period. Do the low energy tasks when you feel low.

Don’t be hard on yourself when things don’t work out. Remember that you are not perfect.

Matt reminds us, “We may all have 24 hours in a day but they are not the same 24 hours.” We are asked rhetorically how we compare to achievers like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk who have the same 24 hours we do. But, the difference is that they probably do not have to do their own laundry. They probably outsource these tasks unlike us.

1 Matt does a lovey ad for Squarespace where he creates a website for a cult of his own called Productivity Savior. He creates a website for the same using Squarespace called productivitysavior.com.  I appreciate the amount of work he puts into his videos. Whois shows that someone has registered the URL.

Tumblr version of this post.

Interview with Dr. S Unnikrishnan Nair, Director, HSFC and VSSC in Malayalam

This is a Malaylam language interview on Asianet News with Dr. S Unnikrishnan Nair. He is the Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (this is where Indian rockets and launch vehicles are built) and Human Spaceflight Center (this is where India’s human spaceflight programme is being developed with astronaut training etc.).

Link to the Malayalam article that accompanies this interview.

The interviewer is Arun Raj K M. You can follow him here on Twitter. Below was his announcement for the interview posted on Twitter. He erroneously says 2020 in the tweet but he means 2022.

I do not have a cable connection at home, so I watched it on YouTube. The video was originally shared on Gareeb Scientist’s Discord (link to his YouTube channel, his Discord is for members only). At least two people on Twitter asked me for the English translation of this interview. Hence, I decided to create the English notes of the interview to help me share it with others.

There may be mistakes in my notes. Please refer to the original in Malayalam if you understand the language. Please help me with corrections in the comments section of this blog post.

  • Congratulations on the PSLV-C52 launch.
  • ISRO thinking about how to clear backlog and return to launch after COVID-19.
  • Next launch will be PSLV C-53.
    • within 2-3 months.
    • exact date will be known later.
  • Small Satellite Launch Vehicle
    • designed to launch 500 kg payload to Low Earth Orbit.
    • Has a lot of commercial possibilities.
    • Three solid stage with a liquid velocity trimming module for fourth stage.
    • All important tests are done. Vehicle being integrated right now.
    • Launch from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota.
  • Gaganyaan – India’s human space flight programme
    • Working on how Orbital module can be separated in flight.
    • It is not necessary to use GSLV Mk-III for these tests.
    • So, a Test Vehicle (TV) was developed using a single stage Vikas engine. This engine is derived from second stage of the PSLV (PS-2) and the liquid strap-ons used on the GSLV (L-40).
    • This vehicle will be used to create the conditions of flight to test the abort of the Orbital Module.
    • 1-2 flights of the Orbital Module will be undertaken this year. This gives us confidence to make sure that the Crew can escape in case of any issues in-flight.
    • TV is also being developed as a multi-purpose test platform.
    • TV will be used to test air-breathing propulsion system.
    • TV will also be used to create flight conditions for the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD) for various tests like straight-line flights of the RLV.
  • Human Spaceflight Launch Vehicle
    • GSLV Mk III is converted into a human-rated launch vehicle.
    • Satellite and payload fairing used on GSLV Mk III is replaced with an Orbital Module and Crew Escape System.
    • Vehicle design has changed. Hence, vehicle undergoing tests like wind tunnel tests etc. Many of the hardware used for the vehicle is being realized at Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (India’s rocketry hub).
    • Each stage needs to be analyzed separately and together to identify points at which failure is possible. Then, need to provide redundancy to avoid failure.
    • Health parameters of the launch vehicle needs to be monitored constantly. If needed, flight should be aborted under appropriate conditions. Vehicle Health Monitoring System is being developed for this purpose.
  • Second Launch Pad
    • Second Launch pad is being modified to support human spaceflight.
    • Second Launch Pad will be able to launch both GSLV Mk III and human-rated GSLV Mk III.
    • Escape chutes are being developed on the Pad.
    • Testing facilities and other accessories needed for human spaceflight being added to Second Launch Pad.
  • Astronaut Training
    • 4 astronauts in Bengaluru at Human Space Flight Center.
    • Training provided in Russia was generic in nature.
    • The Indian training round involves familiarizing astronauts with the human rated launch vehicle and the Orbital Module.
    • It also involves theory, practical, mental fitness, physical fitness etc.
    • Training likely to take 1.5 years. (I am assuming this is the Indian training round and not the total training time.)
    • Understand which areas are accessible in the Orbital Module.
    • Astronauts will also undergo simulator training. Simulators are getting ready at a temporary facility being developed in Bengaluru. This will be inaugurated soon.
  • Collaborating with Glavkosmos, other collaborations? (This was the question asked, but Unnikrishnan replied about Indian contribution. I think the interviewer intended to ask about any other foreign collaboration.)
    • This is a truly national programme.
    • We are tying up with industries, academia and other national laboratories where the technology is already available.
      • DRDO lab in Agra provided us with the parachutes.
      • Defence Food Research Laboratory in Mysore is providing the astronauts with food.
      • We have signed 12 MoUs with various national laboratories.
  • Technology Transfer to the public in the future. (Again, I think the interviewer asked about generally but Unnikrishnan is answering from PoV of human spaceflight).
    • Life support system in capsule could help in living in high altitudes. (possibly, in locations like Siachen for the Indian Army)
    • Inflatable Habitat
    • Portable Life Support System
    • Flight Suits
    • There are also many other things that we cannot foresee today.
  • Private Ecosystem
    • Space was a largely the domain of the government in the 1950s and 1960s. Private companies are playing a bigger role in space across the world.
    • Especially in America, where today they are also involved in human spaceflight and dreams of travelling to Mars.
    • We need to increase private sector participation in the Indian space programme.
    • Mechanisms like IN-SPACe (India’s regulator for the space sector) help.
    • Incubators, access to ISRO faciliteis will help.
  • Do you see private companies like Skyroot etc. as competitors?
    • No.
    • We have to encourage private ecosystem in the space sector to lower cost, to foster technological innovations etc.
    • We need to handhold them today to help them achieve these tomorrow.
    • We help them in reviews, provide test facilities, identify research areas etc.
    • By doing this, we want to increase India’s share in the space economy.
    • ISRO will do science missions.
  • Chandrayaan-3 , India’s third lunar mission
    • It will happen this year.
    • VSSC’s responsibility is for the launch vehicle, the GSLV Mk III.
    • We will make sure that VSSC delivers the same on time.
  • Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle
    • Studies on this are on-going. They are not yet in project stage.
    • These are revealed to the public when a proposal is sent to the Government after study.
    • This will be based on capabilities of ISRO, Indian industrial capability etc.
  • GSLV (what was earlier called the GSLV Mk II)
    • The cause of the failure of the GSLV-F10 has been isolated.
    • We are working on fixing this issue. Fix implementation is in progress.
    • NAVIC’s Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS-1J) will be launched on the GSLV after the fixing the issue.
  • NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR)
    • Joint collaboration between ISRO and NASA. Work in progress.
    • Main responsibility of VSSC is the GSLV. Work in progress to make sure that the launch vehicle is ready to launch on time.
  • Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota (India’s space port)
    • We are developing the capability to launch multiple rockets and launch vehicle. These are in the final stages of implementation.
    • We are also building the capability to increase the number of PSLV launches. These are also in the final stages of development.
    • We are building the capability to assemble and integrate GSLV Mk III in two locations, brought to the launch pad and launched.
  • Science Missions
    • Aditya-L1 (Mission to study the Sun) – to be launched in the second half of this year.
    • Launch vehicle preparations are in progress in VSSC.
  • The change in naming conventions (from OceanSat, EduSAT to EOS and CMS etc.) is for better monitoring of the missions.
  • Semi-cryogenic engine
    • These are being built to uprate the capability of the GSLV Mk III (to help it carry more mass to orbit).
    • LPSC, Mahendragiri is working on developing this stage and associated testing facilities.
  • Vyom-mitra (a humanoid robot developed by ISRO)
    • It will fly on the first uncrewed mission of Gaganyaan.
    • It is now undergoing testing and qualification for space conditions for launch.
    • Robotics is an important area. We see these robots as co-travelers with humans to the Moon and Mars (for interplanetary missions).
    • Hence, we are testing and developing our capability in robotics.

Space, Nuclear and Quantum

I recently tweeted looking out for people in the civilian nuclear energy space:

Do share any people you may know about on Twitter. Thanks in advance.


India has developed reasonable capabilities in space. It is now embarking on developing a civilian space sector. In the strategic sector, India has developed a Defence Space Agency and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It has secured communication and remote sensing capabilities.

The importance of the space sector is to continue reliable communication, navigation and remote sensing capabilities without having to depend on foreign countries. It is also to build and develop products and services in India that can be provided to the world at competitive prices.

I think we may be late on this path but we are on the right path with respect to space.


India needs to grow. India needs energy for this growth. Meeting these energy needs using hydrocarbons is not sustainable.

I think nuclear will form a large percentage of sustainable energy production in the country.


Quantum is important for research and computing today. But, in the future, there will be quantum computers that will need Indian expertise to operate and program.

My understanding of Quantum and Nuclear is limited. I have not been watching these fields as closely as I have watched Space. What I have listed above are my assumptions. This is the starting point for my thinking about these fields.

Back to Return to Earth

I wrote the last Chapter of Return to Earth on November 30, 2021. Return to Earth is a re-worked version of a novel that I was attempting to write for NaNoWriMo 2021.

Through December, 2021, I was busy with delivering work related projects before the end of the calendar year.

In January 2022, I was following up with a distraction. A short story idea that I had hoped to write and publish by end of January 2022. The short story consumed me. I was not able to think of returning to the novel. It took a bout of COVID-19 for me to drop the idea of pursuing the short story and return to the novel.

Another thing pushing the return to the novel, Return to Earth, was the kick-off of Cohort 2 of Long-form Writing which I had the honor of co-hosting with Hemant and Saurabh.

I returned to writing the novel, Return to Earth, again yesterday (on February 8, 2021). This is a short but important chapter in the novel.


This was initially written on February 6, 2022. Links added and post expanded with more details on February 8, 2022.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on January 26, 2022. I was fully vaccinated with COVAXIN.

I had high fever (102 degF) on January 25, 2022. Having Dolo 650 did not help in controlling the fever beyond reducing it marginally to 100 degF. I consulted with a doctor on the Government of India’s app eSanjeevani. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and suggested that I do an RT-PCR.

My wife did not sleep that night. She says she could feel me burning with fever. She then went on to apply wet cloth on my forehead to try and cool my head. Her efforts to check oxygen levels and temperature gave differing levels which increased her worry at night. I slept through this asking her not to worry. This did not help her.

The next day the fever subsided. It was followed by cold and episodic cough. But, I think the worst was the week after. I was exhausted and could not focus on anything.

Although the symptoms (including the episodic cough) subsided after a week, the exhaustion lasted till February 6, 2022. Only a lot of sleep and a lot of fluids help me overcome the exhaustion.

I spent the time watching YouTube videos of Matt Ragland. But, I slept through many of the videos. The exhaustion was a constant right through the last two weeks.