Science 09 Sep 2016 How scandal, curbs h ...

How scandal, curbs hit cryogenic engine project

Published Sep 9, 2016, 12:54 am IST
Updated Sep 9, 2016, 1:31 am IST
An image of the cryogenic stage while it undergoes ground tests (Photo: Web)
 An image of the cryogenic stage while it undergoes ground tests (Photo: Web)

Bengaluru: The irony could not have been more striking for Indian scientists as they celebrated the successful launch of the INSAT-3DR, by a Made-in-India cryogenic engine-powered rocket on Thursday.

For, the first “operational flight” of the GSLV, propelled by the cryogenic engine was achieved a little over two months after the US State Department welcomed India as a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime on June 27.

“India possesses substantial missile-relevant technology and has excellent non-proliferation and export control credentials. India is a valued non-proliferation partner,” it had said in a press release.

In May of 1992, however, it was the US which invoked MTCR rules to scuttle Isro’s deal with Russia’s Glavcosmos, for sale of cryogenic engines, and even slapped sanctions on the space agency.

The curbs set the clock back on several Isro programmes but they also prodded scientists to embark on an indigenous cryogenic upper stage in 1994. Later, Russia agreed to sell seven cryogenic stages and one ground mock-up stage instead of five cryogenic stages and the technology to build the stages.

The cryogenic engine project endured a major setback when Dr S Nambi Narayanan, project director of the liquid propulsion system of PSLV, was branded a spy and arrested in November 1994. He spent 50 days in prison, and later lived in ignominy until the Supreme Court cleared him of charges in 1998.

On Thursday, he congratulated former colleagues for proving that Isro has the capability to place two tonne-plus satellites in orbit but rued that his arrest had delayed GSLV-II and GSLV-III by several years.

“Somebody did not want India to join the competition for commercial launch of satellites (in the two-tonne class). I don’t know why neither the Union government or the Kerala government want to find out the motive behind the spy case,” he told Deccan Chronicle.   

Twenty two years after his arrest, Isro could still prove a formidable competitor in the multi-billion dollar market for launch of satellites given its ability to create frugal technologies. The PSLV, has already helped carve a niche in the world market with its capability to launch several satellites during a single flight.

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