Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

‘Benefitted from Russian geopolitical situation as some launches came to India… we raised our prestige and ability’: ISRO Chief S Somanath

A narrative has been created that the concepts of science and God do not go together and all scientists should be atheists. I do not believe either in atheism or in the belief system. I always worship the approach of scientists to find out the truth.

ISRO Chairman interview, S Somanath, ISRO space missions,Chandrayaan-3 mission, Chandrayaan 3’s propulsion module, Chandrayaan-3 memories, vikram lander, indian express newsChairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation S. Somanath in Vadodara on Saturday. (Express Photo by Bhupendra Rana)

ISRO Chairman S Somanath speaks to Aditi Raja on how sanctions have impacted space missions, how Chandrayaan 3’s propulsion module was brought back to earth, and much more on the sidelines of the 7th Edition of the Gujarat Chhatra Sansad in Vadodara.

Bringing back Chandrayaan-3 propulsion module to earth involved complex manoeuvers. What does ISRO plan to do with it?

After accomplishing Chandrayaan-3 mission, we thought why should we not do something different that will give input to future missions, which involves bringing back samples from the Moon.

After the Chandrayaan launch, we had about 100 kg of fuel left inside (the propulsion module). With 100-kg of fuel, we cannot come back to earth. So, we had to use the gravity of the Moon and the gravity of the Earth such that it (satelitte) would move back to the Earth orbit.


With a 100-kg fuel, we put the orbiter in a big orbit around the Moon and when it rotated and aligned with Earth, the Earth attracts it and causes the orbit to move. After almost one month, the alignment technique helped it to move the satellite to an Earth’s orbit.

Will ISRO collaborate with Russia, US or China for its human flight mission?

At the very start of the human space programme, we worked with Russia because it was willing to help us. Four of our astronauts went to Russia for one year for the astronaut training programme. Russia supplied us with the state space suit and other items like crew seat.

Festive offer

France is helping us with medical training of the crew. US is helping us with a possibility to go to the International Space Station as part of this astronaut training programme. Boeing and airbus are willing to help us in many ways.

How has the geopolitical situation concerning Russia impacted the global space exploration scenario?

Russian rockets were being used for launching (spacecraft) from Kourou, which it withdrew after the current geo-political situation… As a result, some of the European launches that were to happen from Russia were called off… We benefited from the situation as some of the launches came to India.


I was asked if we could launch some rockets in a short time. I said ‘yes’ but big design changes were needed… So, we captured the market, raised our prestige and ability in launching such complex missions. This way we benefitted from the (geo-political) issue.

What are ISRO’s commercial plans?

We have launched 434 foreign satellites using Indian rockets. Of these, seven to eight were dedicated missions for foreign satellites. Next year, we are going to launch two more. No nation desires that their satellites are launched from another country if they have launch capability…

So, who is the customer for commercial launches? The biggest manufacturers of satellites are still the US, Europe and Russia. So, I have to find markets in Africa, Southeast Asia, Arabic countries and South America. And we have launched many satellites from those countries.


So, we have created a market like for any other product by creating local alliances… We have connected strongly with Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore – we have done at least five launches for them. We have discussions going on with South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Egypt. It is not for launching alone but for creating the whole infrastructure for them.

We have NewSpace India Limited, a public sector undertaking, which has been mandated to give commercial offers and participate in biddings.

You have withdrawn your Malayalam memoir after controversy over your equation with former ISRO chief K Sivan.

The book has been withdrawn, so I will not talk about it. There are no differences between Dr Sivan and me… It is a fact that (reason for the failure of Chandrayaan-2) should be transparent. We try (to follow) a very transparent process of educating people about the success and failure. We must explain because it is a public-funded programme.

Dr Sivan and I are working very closely. He is part of my advisory group and a part of the headquarters even today, so there is no difference of opinion… We have differences in approach. We have different ways of getting things done and that is fine. We do not have objections (to each other).

You were seen offering prayers at Somnath temple after Chandrayaan-3 launch. Is it compatible with what a scientist practices?


A narrative has been created that the concepts of science and God do not go together and all scientists should be atheists. I do not believe either in atheism or in the belief system. I always worship the approach of scientists to find out the truth.

But it is equally important to find out the truth in other channels, which is a possibility… There are physical theories and none have been proven. There are material structures and we still do not know what they are made of… No one knows the boundary of the universe. Our ability to understand the nature of the 11-dimensional universe is very limited. I am trying to find answers.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 04:27 IST
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