Renowned scientist K Sivan, who will replace AS Kiran Kumar as the chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on January 12, may not have got the fame he deserved as the space agency’s achievements grabbed the spotlight last year. The brain behind India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project, which he has been working on since 1982, Sivan is popularly known as ‘Rocket Man’ for his significant contribution in the development of cryogenic engines.
Even though the development of the PSLV rocket — that launched 104 satellites in a single mission setting a record in February last year — may have catapulted ISRO to the world stage, many are unaware of Sivan’s efforts in mission planning, design, integration and analysis.
Sivan is at present Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and will have his hands full as he steps into his new role. ISRO is set to launch its 100th satellite at 9.29 am on Friday from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C40), on its 42nd mission, will carry ‘Cartosat-2’, a weather observation satellite and 30 other satellites.
Besides contributing significantly to the PSLV project, Sivan was also involved in designing the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and GSLV Mk-III vehicle. Sivan also designed a software called Sitara, which ISRO uses for simulating trajectories of its rockets.
He led the Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) project, one of the most technologically challenging endeavors of ISRO towards developing essential technologies for a fully reusable launch vehicle, and was the brain behind its design qualification, aerodynamic characterisation and hardware development.
Born in Tamil Nadu’s Nagercoil, Sivan graduated from Madras Institute of Technology in aeronautical engineering in 1980 and completed Master of Engineering in Aerospace engineering from IISc, Bangalore in 1982. Subsequently, he completed his PhD in Aerospace engineering from IIT, Bombay in 2006.
Sivan has received numerous awards throughout his career. In 2014, he received Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Sathyabama University, Chennai and Shri Hari Om Ashram Prerit Dr Vikram Sarabhai Research award in 1999. He was conferred upon with the prestigious Dr Biren Roy Space Science award in 2011.