Thursday, November 20, 2014

P Kunhikrishnan's talk at Alliance Uty, Bangalore

Talk by P. Kunhikrishnan, Mission Director, Mangalyaan at Alliance University, Anekal, Bangalore on 19 Nov 2014.

Alliance University was very fortunate to play host to a young, energetic and dynamic space scientist at their central campus in Anekal, Bangalore on the 19th of November 2014 from 3 - 5 PM. Kunhikrishnan started the talk with the question, what is space and what makes space such a hostile territory ? 

Space is all the part above 100 km from earth’s surface. Kunhikrishnan has been associated with the PSLV missions at ISRO from the the PSLV mission C15 onwards till the present mission C26. Some technical details of the talk are reproduced here.
The assurance tests ISRO does on its different models before the actual flight is an interesting matter to be understood. At least 100 simulations are done on digital computer before the actual firing of any rocket to ensure that the flight and the payload are not wasted. Before any flight is authorised, it is subject to Mission Readiness Review and Launch Authorisation Board. Only after these boards authorise the launch does the actual physical firing happen and launch take place.

Regarding economies, maintaining an army of workers and scientists at ISRO and SHAR centre makes sense if only a minimum of 4 launches are taken up every year. Accordingly, the next four launches will be of the remaining four satellites D,E,F and G of IRNSS series the whole of next year. PSLV at its initial stages had imported components to the tune of 29% which at present is anywhere between 9-10 %. The active support given by the private sector manufacturing companies helping in fabricating different components for the rocket has to improve stil better as the speaker felt that in other countries, the private sector played a still bigger role which helped it to plan and execute still larger and powerful missions. After giving details of the harsh and cruel confines of space, the speaker went on to explain about the Mangalyaan project.

The MOM Mangalyaan mission to orbit Mars was launched on PSLV C25. The speaker actually gave us a good discussion on space and the machines which ISRO has been using over the years to conquer the unknown frontiers of space. He clearly explained the steps by which ISRO attained what very few other countries had achieved so far, to get an orbiter orbit Mars. ISRO did not wait for the more powerful GSLV rockets to be ready to launch the Mars mission, instead used its less powerful time-tested PSLV rockets to achieve this. To take a payload of 1337 kg out of earth’s orbit has been achieved with the PSLV rocket with the help of a very innovative sling-shot technology.

After cruising in interplanetary space from earth’s orbit to martian orbit for about 10 months travelling at the speed of 11 km/sec, the Martian orbit Insertion (MOI) was the most tricky part of the whole mission. To slow down a fast moving rocket  and get it under the gravitational attraction of Mars is the most difficult task, which the team achieved with great precision using very less amount of energy. A signal to control the MOM from earth would take 25 minutes to reach the 214 million kms to the orbiter, even though the signals travel at the speed of light of 3 lakh kms/sec.This makes it all the more difficult to issue signals to the orbiter and to wait for the feedback.

When asked how ISRO inspite of being a government organisation has still not yet got any of the painful bureaucratic issues and lethargy associated with government manufacturing organisations, the speaker was quick to point out that the self-initiative nature of the ISRO workforce is the biggest blessing of ISRO. Even at the final stages of launch, the most junior in the organisation has got power to express his doubts about mission readiness and his objections would be very clearly scrutinised. This adds a great sense of belongingness for each employee to the organisation.  

The session ended with a beautiful rendition of a Carnatic music piece by Kunhikrishnan on his flute making it very clear that even at such busy tensed sessions, he finds time to destress himself on the flute.. It was the first time that after the success of Mangalyaan MOI insertion, a senior scientist was going out to an educational institution and addressing students. The speaker not only explained the basics of space and rocket science in simple language, he went on to explain the intricacies of rocket science and launches in a more detailed manner, which was understood and appreciated by the audience.

The students will remember this interesting and excellent session from a senior Scientist from ISRO for a long time.


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