Following The PSLV C-50 mission on Twitter

After a long time, I live-tweeted the launch of the PSLV-C50 mission.

From my newsletter, edition #8

CMS-01 was earlier called GSAT-12R. The change of names is for ISRO’s new naming convention. It has named it’s remote sensing satellites as EOS for Earth Observation Satellite and it’s geostationary satellites as CMS for Communications and Meteorology Satellites. ISRO has provided no rationale for the renaming of satellites.

PSLV-C50 mission consisted of a PSLV flown in it’s XL configuration. XL stands for Extended Length. It’s 6 strap-on boosters are extended in length. It carries 4 ground-lit boosters and 2 air-lit boosters. CMS-01 was the only payload on board. The PSLV placed the satellite in the intended orbit in 1200 seconds. The intended orbit was orbit is 284 km X 20650 km at 17.86 deg inclination.

This is ISRO’s second launch from Indian soil in 2020 and third launch including one from Kourou on board the Ariane V launch vehicle.

In the post-launch press conference, ISRO’s Chairman, K Sivan announced that PSLV-C51, ISRO’s next launch would carry Anand satellite of Pixxel Space. This would be India’s first private satellite launch. Pixxel Space is a remote sensing satellite builder and data provider.

Space going back to Kerala?

While listening to Mission ISRO, I realized how the focus of space activities changed from Thumba to Bengaluru in the 1970s when Prof. Satish Dhawan became ISRO Chairman after the death of Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space program.

In today’s episode, it was discussed how people in Kerala opposed the move to build Aryabhata, India’s first satellite to Bengaluru. Surendra Pal in his reconstruction says that people blockaded the movement of equipment from Thumba. It seems scientists carried some tools and books as personal luggage from Thumba to Bengaluru.

In Thiruvananthapuram, a space park was started in 2019. Many space companies have moved there. When listening to this episode today, I wondered if this is a return back to the 1960s.

While I do not want to indulge in counterfactual of what would have happened if the space program had stayed in Kerala, I think the creation of the space park is another opportunity to unlock that potential.

Kerala has lost several investment opportunities. It has lost so because of perceived unionism and the political troubles many industries have faced. But, given the slow loss of a remittance economy, there is a slow return of small and medium enterprises in the state. Unfortunately, the state has slowly lost land with no space for large industries.

The Space Park idea is a great place for space companies to register and operate from. Will it be inviting enough to get companies to move from Bengaluru to Kerala Space Park?

Skyroot Aerospace unveils Dhawan 1

Skyroot Aerospace unveiled the Dhawan 1 cryogenic engine today.

Skyroot Aerospace is a commercial launch vehicle service provider company based in Hyderabad. They hope to build a fleet of three small satellite launch vehicles called Vikram 1, Vikram 2 and Vikram 3. They hope to launch Vikram 1 in December 2021.

Dhawan 1. Image Credit: Skyroot Aerospace

Dhawan 1 is a cryogenic engine that uses liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquid oxygen as cryogenic propellants. The company says that their engine is 100% 3D printed in India. This will form the last stage of the Vikram 2 rocket. Vikram 2 is capable of lofting 520 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Skyroot dedicated the engine to Prof. Satish Dhawan on his birth centenary.

Today is Prof. Satish Dhawan’s birth centenary. He was a fluid dynamics expert who was director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru before becoming Chairman, ISRO after the death of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space program. He is credited with building up India’s communication and remote sensing satellite systems as well as development of India’s workhorse PSLV.

India also has had a tough time working with cryogenic engines. It tried to procure cryogenic engines from Russia. This was blocked by the USA. Following this, India began developing an indigenous cryogenic engine in the 1990s. Following many failures atop the GSLV, it finally became successful only in 2014. ISRO has since developed a stable of cryogenic rocket engines. Given this history, Skyroot’s success is appreciable.

They received a lot of attention in August 2020, when they became the first Indian aerospace company to test their Raman engine. Raman is the upper stage bi-propellant liquid rocket engine used for Vikram 1. Vikram 1 is capable of lofting 315 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). A few days back they also fired the ballistic evaluation model motors of their solid rocket engines. They have shared the videos on their YouTube channel.

Test firing their Raman rocket engine
Firing a scaled down version of their solid fuel engine

I am waiting to watch a static fire test of this cryogenic engine and also the first flight of Vikram 1. Good luck to Skyroot Aerospace.

Cargo (2019)

A spacey afterlife, I had tweeted after I first saw the trailer of Cargo on YouTube.

Netflix trailer for Cargo

I have had a love affair with space since I was a teenager. But, I wasn’t the brave type of fellow who would enjoy being strapped to a rocket. So, I had settled for dreams of being an engineer on Earth who sent people out into space. If forced to leave Earth, I would definitely not be in the first few flights off Earth.

The only way for me to access space in those teenage years through the pages of a science fiction book. I have recently started reading Indian science fiction again by reading Gautam Bhatia’s The Wall. I thought this was a movie I could watch as part of that project.

Going to space after death! People seem to be going to and from the spacecraft without rockets. But, I wonder if the fear of sitting on a rocket will play a role after you die.

Death is a great segue to spirituality, my other interest. Hinduism views death as the first step in the reincarnation process. One dies. Then, one is re-born. The idea is to break this cycle of life, death and re-birth. My personal reading in spirituality has been centered around the Upanishads. I see them as a mental model to answer some of the difficult questions I have till science gives us more concrete answers.

Cargo combines space and death in a very innovative way.


As I watched the movie, I was looking up the movie on Wikipedia and Google to understand more of the space and spirituality references the movie uses. What follows are the ones that I found.

The connection to bulls as the mount used by Yama, the Hindu god of death is the logo for the Post Death Transition Services. It is well branded on the coffee mug that the protagonist uses.

The spaceship where they ‘transition’ human beings from one life to the next are called Pushpak. Pushpak is the first reference to a vimana in Hindu texts. This is a chariot built by Vishwakarma for Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. This is the vehicle that Ravana later stole from Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth who got it from Brahma. Vishwakarma is the divine architect and god of architects and engineers. Look at how technical and step-by-step the ‘transition’ is. Doff of the hat to Vishwakarma?

The lead is named Prahasta. Prahasta is the General of the Lankan army and Ravana’s maternal uncle. In the war with Rama, Prahasta is the general of the army leading the first wave. So, Prahasta in the movie, is one of the first six rakshasa-astronauts who fly the first Pushpak?

Prahasta’s science guy at Ground control is named Raman sir. Doff of the hat to C V Raman?

My take

Many of the Upanishads take the question-answer mode between two or multiple people to tackle deep philosophical questions. Many of them have a guru-disciple setting. I think the movie sets the spacecraft as a back drop to have a few question-answer mode between Yuvishka as the student and Prahasta as a guru.

I would consider everything else being nothing more than setting up the scene for this conversation.

I am not sure if the human-rakshasa agreement where humans agree to be led by rakshasas is a commentary on the present political climate?

I think there are more references and hooks that are present in the film that I may not get as I am not a full time movie goer.

A muted first anniversary for Chandrayaan 2

Arup Dasgupta writes in The Wire Science about the muted Chandrayaan 2 anniversary. This is quite contrary to the claim of the 95% mission success that ISRO spoke of at the time of the loss of lander and rover.

I broadly agree with the point Dasgupta makes in the article but have a few reservations to share.

I think there have been many more publications of results than what Dasgupta claims but they are not centralized at any one place. This has been a pain point with ISRO. I have to depend on r/ISRO for helping me find where ISRO has published this information.

I summarized the findings from Chandrayaan 2 in Issue #3 of Pradeep’s Space Newsletter under the heading Chandrayaan 2 science papers where other than the Current Science articles Dasgupta mentions, there are papers submitted to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). There may be more or perhaps COVID-19 intervened.

ISRO has announced that Chandrayaan 2 data will be released in public in October 2020. Hence the claim about there being no release of data may be premature. An announcement of opportunity may follow.

Speculation about the lander-rover, is that more news will be available with images from Chandrayaan 2 when they publish a paper about it. But the silence and reaction from ISRO about the failure of the lander-rover part of the mission has been childish.

Shanmuga Subramanian mentioned in the article above has also been continuing the search for Chandrayaan 2 lander-rover from data obtained from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) from subsequent passes over the crash site. He has also been continuing to search for impact debris of the Moon Impact Probe launched with Chandrayaan 1 in 2008. Talking of Chandrayaan 1, I will be posting here about their finding of rust on the lunar surface.

To end, I like to share VM’s post about why it’s a pain to try and follow what ISRO does. But, part of the love for our space agency is learning about ISRO using any means necessary.