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.

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.

The Vault of Vishnu (2020)

I had purchased all Ashwin Sanghi books up to Sialkot Saga as and when they came. I purchased The Vault of Vishnu on pre-order. When the book came I realised that Sanghi had written more books in the interim that I had missed.

Book Cover – The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi

During this time, I was trying new techniques of reading multiple books at the same time. In mid-May this year, I realized I could not read like this. I also found that I could not read the next book until I broke the log jam by writing a review about it on my blog. In fact, this log jam affected everything else in my life as well. Hence, I am writing this now to break the log jam so I can go on to my next book.

I always liked how Sanghi wrote his book from multiple stories that coalesce some where in time. I particularly liked the leisurely pace at which the book started. I kept switching between books until I wrote the review for the 7 Brief Lessons in Physics and then I finished the book in one sitting. Now, you might understand why the second paragraph of this review was essential.

The book neatly merges facts and fiction. For all the facts, Sanghi has a nice appendix with all the reading he did to research for the book. It merges timelines across time and space. It merges spies and history. I like how his writing style has improved so much since the Rozabal Line.

Official trailer of The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi

When I read the title, The Vault of Vishnu, my Malayali mind immediately leapt to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvanantapuram and the hidden vaults under the temple. That is why I ordered the book. Turns out the referenced temple is the Chidambaram Temple in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu.

Sanghi begins his novel with the events that happened at Doklam in 2017 between India and China. Given the situation at the border now, the novel may be relatable? Then the story moves between India and China and across centuries. Even in the novel, we are dependent on help from the Americans for intelligence. There is reference to limitation of RISAT-2 which keeps an eye on India’s borders with China and Pakistan. There are references to our glorious past – especially the Cholas, Indian contributions to Kungfu and Shaolin and Bodhidharma (no Indo-Chinese fiction book is complete without him).

The story line of the Chinese monk travelling to get to India is a little slow through the book and adding a map to understand the path he took would have been a great add.

For me, the book reemphasizes our open borders between India, China, Persia and Central Asia. Knowledge, legends and myths have traveled on these roads for centuries and the modern nation-state has sought to destroy these ancient connections. I think we are poorer as a result.

From the books page on his website, I realised that he has published many more books than I anticipated. I am yet to read The Keepers of the Kalachakra in his Bharat Series, all books in his Private Series and some of his later books on his 13 Steps series. I had read 13 Steps book on wealth and luck.

7 Brief Lessons on Physics (2015)

I was listening to the On Being podcast where Krista Tippett was interviewing Carlo Rovelli. Rovelli is an Italian physicist working with the Quantum Gravity research group at Centre de Physique Theorique in Marseille, France.

As soon as the episode was over, I went over to Amazon and ordered the book he had been talking of – Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. This is an English translation of Rovelli’s Sette brevi lezioni di fisica written in 2014. The book was translated into English by Simon Carnell and Eric Segre in 2015.

In his discussion, I felt that there were still parts of Physics that I would like to explore and read up more on. Although the book does not have footnotes that would help me to learn more. It is an intense book packed with information. I read this book between March 17, 2020 and finished it on May 26, 2020. The book is 79 pages long.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Cover, Fair use, Link

The first lesson of the book explores Einstein’s theory of general relativity published in 1915. But, before we get there we have to realise that in one of his three papers written in 1905, Einstein suggested that time is not the same for everyone. The Theory of General Relativity suggests that gravity is the curvature of space.

In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with Quantum Mechanics. In 1900, Max Planck conducted an experiment to measure the electric field in a hot box. For calculations, he considered energy to be lumps of energy that he called quanta. While the results agreed, it disagreed with what was known till then about Energy.

In 1905, one of the three papers that Einstein submitted showed that Planck’s view of the world is true. He showed that light is made of similar packets, called photons. This paper birthed the field of Quantum Physics. The rest of the second lesson explores how Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg flesh out the field of Quantum Physics with Einstein objecting and rejecting the results that the field proposed.

The 1905 introduction to the paper begins with “It seems to me that..”. Rovelli suggests that genius hesitates and great scientists doubt till the end.

The third lesson is a chapter filled with diagrams. The reason why is explained beautifully by Rovelli, thus:

This lesson is made up mostly of simple drawings. The reason for this is that before experiments, measurements, mathematics and rigorous deductions, science is above all about visions. Science begins with a vision. Scientific thought is fed by the capacity to ‘see’ things differently than they have previously been seen.

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lesssons in Physics, Third Lesson, pp 21-22, 2015, translated into English by Simon Carnell and Eric Segre

The diagrams refer to how our view of our world changed from Earth below to sky above to us being in an ordinary solar system in an ordinary galaxy. The diagrams describe the structure of our universe.

The fourth lesson talks about particles. It goes into the development of quantum physics and then ends up discussing the various issues related to the Standard Model. The Model is a series of equations that has “never been taken entirely seriously by physicists” and seem to them “piecemeal and patched together”. The Model when applied directly leads to nonsensical predictions. A process called re-normalization is used to make them sensible. One of its limitation is an inability to explain dark matter. However, this Model provides the best answers to the phenomena we witness in the universe.

The fourth lesson also introduces an important concept. It introduces us to a “world of happenings, not things”. He explains:

The nature of these particles, and the way they move, is described by quantum mechanics. These particles do not have a pebble-like reality but are rather the ‘quanta’ of corresponding fields, just as photons are ‘quanta’ of the electromagnetic field.

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lesssons in Physics, Fourth Lesson, pp 30, 2015, translated into English by Simon Carnell and Eric Segre

The fifth lesson introduces us to a conundrum in the world of physics. General Relativity is our best theory that explains things at the cosmic scale and which led to the development of fields like Cosmology and Astrophysics. Quantum Mechanics provides our best theory that explains things at the quantum scale and led to the development of fields like atomic physics, nuclear physics, physics of condensed matter, etc. However both these fields do not agree with each other.

Many theories are being postulated to try and bring these two laws together and fit them together. The author himself is part of such an effort called Loop Quantum Theory. He is part of one of several groups trying to integrate the two theories.

The sixth lesson deals with concepts of heat that I was not aware of. The nature of time is dependent on nature of heat.

The difference between past and future only exists when there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder.

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lesssons in Physics, Fourth Lesson, pp 51, 2015, translated into English by Simon Carnell and Eric Segre

He then says that the answer to why heat flows from hot bodies to clod bodies is very simple. It is just probability. The rest of the chapter flows from probability towards the concept of the heat of black holes. This still unanswered question brings together the field of quantum mechanics, general relativity and thermal science.

The book is a lot of information to take in about 79 pages. Even writing this review of the book took me more than a week. I don’t think I have done justice to the book. But, writing more would have become the equivalent to just writing the book here. What I have sought to do here is to try and build an outline of the book and introduce you to the mysteries that pulled me towards reading the book.

This is a book that provides a simple, deep understanding of the Physics of the twentieth century. It helps you understand where we stand and throws a light on where we are headed.

Daughter’s First Day at School

Today is my daughter’s first day at school. She is in Nursery.

First, let me acknowledge my privilege in being able to afford a school that is starting on time during a pandemic. The classes are online. Being able to afford a separate laptop for her with enough internet bandwidth to attend class and for me to work from home is a blessing.

We were thinking of moving to Kerala in May 2020. I was working from home and schools were not slated to open till September 2020 this year. The interstate pass system had opened. We were applying for passes planning to drive down to Kerala. The request got rejected. On the evening of the same day, we got an email from my daughter’s school that school would open with online classes on June 10, 2020. June 10 is the day schools normally open in Maharashtra, where we are based now.

This stopped us from seeking a pass to go to Kerala and we decided to stay put here. Although classes are online, we were not sure how easy it would be to travel between Maharashtra and Kerala at some point in the future.

Many of the smaller private schools and government schools have still not opened and are wondering how to ensure that everyone can access academic content. There are concerns around content delivery and access. My daughter’s school has assumed that it’s parents have the privilege to access a laptop or a smartphone at home with good bandwidth.

A few days before the announcement, I was listening to Rukmini’s podcast, The Moving Curve. She was talking about the importance of opening up schools and day care facilities as a precursor to parents returning to work. In India, working parents choose and depend on schools to take care of their kids most of the day to enable them to go to work.

In a recent episode, Rukmini spoke of how a disruption of even a year in the student’s academic track leads to a loss in pay of about 15% per year later on in life. That’s getting one pay grade less than one deserves for the rest of life.

This helped me realize the importance of privilege of being able to have my daughter attend school now.

I was watching this video in Malayalam of efforts people are taking to prepare their child for school online. Cleaning up the background, setting up a desk for studying and providing water and sufficient lighting during studies. There are also health considerations like keeping a safe distance between the child’s eyes and the screen.

Online class about to begin… video in Malayalam

I lent the table and chair I was using for working from home to my daughter. We put a sofa cushion on the seat so that the camera is at the correct height that she can be seen. We have moved furniture around so that the background is our wall. We also did a few test runs with my parents last night.

My daughter’s classes are on Microsoft Teams, a software that even I was only introduced to last year while I was working with State Bank of India. She has her own email id for accessing content and for school work.

My best wishes for everyone who are on this journey.


There was a gulmohar tree right outside my house.

Gulmohar before it bloomed. Image credit: Pradeep Mohandas

We moved into this building only last July. I never noticed this tree because I never sat in our balcony overlooking the tree. I didn’t have the time nor the inclination. I was mostly staring into a rectangular device.

After the lockdown, my family sat in the balcony in the evening. It started as a ritual to enjoy the afternoon tea with a cool breeze to keep us company. This practice also gifted us some magnificent sunsets.

The blooming gulmohar seen from our balcony. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

As the gulmohar bloomed, my wife identified it. After that we looked at it each day as it bloomed and turned into a place of refuge for winged refugees and a stray cat.

Devleena @ Numer8

Episode 22 of the NewSpace India podcast had Narayan Prasad (NP) talking to Devleena about her company, Numer8. Numer8 is a Mumbai-based data science company that uses data obtained from Earth observation satellites to solve problems like disaster management, coastal community monitoring, infrastructure monitoring, wildlife, and biodiversity protection.

The present episode of the podcast talked about fishing and how Numer8’s app Ofish helps in this regard. They provide a mobile application to the fisherman who use the app to determine places to fish and also see what price they can get from the market for their catch. The fishermen use the app using transponders that were fitted on the boats by the respective State governments. Some also rely on mobile networks. At the same time, Numer8 also provides a dashboard to port authorities to protect the coasts and prevent over-fishing.

The app supports Tamil, Sinhala, English, Marathi and Bengali languages currently. It protects data obtained from satellite by providing limited field of view of about 20 km, with no data provided for fishing beyond 20 nautical miles and also not sharing data to fishermen in other countries.

The geospatial data is primarily sourced through NASA and Europe’s Sentinel data. Devleena says that timely data from ISRO has been an issue but they hope to use data such as the Ocean Colour Monitor data from OceanSat.

There were also two other brief discussions that I found interesting and I note them here for my own reference.

The app is an example of a downstream application of geospatial data. This means data obtained from satellites is provided to a customer in an easy to use format. This has been difficult to do in the Indian situation with not many companies looking at these downstream applications. As much as we need private companies to build space hardware and software we also need companies that can use the products obtained from putting satellites in orbit. Numer8 is one example of such a company.

In the past, ISRO has sold its fishing data to the Fisheries Department and relies on the Fisheries Department to get the data to the fishermen, who are the end user. This ended up with fishermen having data that they did not understand and spending too much time at sea to obtain their catch. This was the transmission of data from Government agency to another Government Agency which relayed the data to a Customer (G > G > C). The presence of Numer8 inserts a private entity in this supply chain. So, the flow of data becomes (G > P > C). This led to improvement in way by which data was presented to the end user or customer and ensured that the data was used by the same. The Private company studied the end user, found out why existing products were not used and made sure that the data was usable.

The second point related to Numer8’s contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Devleena said that theirs was the only startup that presented to the UN that the oceans could be as much a source of food as land. Numer8 suggested that better data could feed people while ensuring that ocean fish population was not over-fished.

Varane Avashyamundu (Malayalam, 2020)

I got my wife a Netflix subscription for a month and the first thing we got to seeing is the Malayalam movie, Varane Avashyamundu (transl. Groom wanted). We had missed watching this in the theatres in February. The story starring Shobhana, Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan and marks the directorial debut of Sathyan Anthikad’s son, Anoop Sathyan.

The movie begins with a single mother – daughter duo looking for groom for the daughter and ends with the daughter selecting a groom for her single mother. But, intertwined in this simple narrative are various societal issues. These include broken marriages, single mothers, adoption, Army men who return from Service but unable to survive in Society and many more. These were issues that Sathyan Anthikad also covered in his movies in the 1980s and 1990s. That Anoop Sathyan covers some of the same issues in 2020 is quite telling.

Shobhana is a single mother who has escaped from a broken marriage. Lalu Alex plays a supportive brother who helps her escape and supports her as she is living life. Her daughter, learning from her mother’s experience thinks a love marriage is destined for failure and attempts to find a groom for herself. She uses matrimonial websites to find her match.

Suresh Gopi plays a troubled military officer who has done great things while in the Armed Forces but struggles to fit in into Society. He says he finds it easier to face the enemy than to tell a woman that he loves her. He undergoes psychological treatment from a Doctor as he tries to fit into Society.

Dulquer Salman is an orphan who has been “adopted” by a TV series star grandmother. He has his own love life collapse during the movie with his colleague who flies away to the US to pursue her career. He then finds love again, with Shobhana’s daughter.

I think the movie tries to throw light on several societal issues that no longer get too much coverage in Malayalam movies that once were it’s mainstay. I think some of the questions that the movie raises are still not fully answered in our Society today. I enjoyed the performances of all the main protagonists – Shobhana, Dulquer Salman, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Suresh Gopi.