K Sivan, Chairman, ISRO
A month before the launch of Chandrayaan-2 mission, the phlegmatic rocket scientist from Tamil Nadu, did not mince words when he said that the final descent towards the surface of the Moon by the Vikram lander would be among the most terrifying moments in ISRO’s history. Since taking over as chairman in 2018, Sivan, 62, has driven the Chandrayaan-2 mission to realisation despite multiple delays, including technical problems with the Vikram lander. The ISRO veteran has spent over 36 years in the organisation and served in the past as director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre — the primary centres for development of rocket technologies for the space agency.
His innovations to mission design in ISRO’s workhorse and highly consistent PSLV rocket programme has been a bedrock for the development of bigger rockets such as GSLV Mk II and III. “He is the chief architect of 6D trajectory simulation software, SITARA, the backbone of real-time and non-real-time trajectory simulations of all ISRO launch vehicles. He was responsible for commissioning world-class simulation facility in ISRO for mission synthesis and analysis, which is used for mission design…” says Sivan’s ISRO profile.
A PhD in aerospace from IIT Bombay, Sivan has a Masters in aerospace from IISc and is an aeronautics engineering graduate from IIT Madras.
Launch Vehicle Team
S Somanath, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre
Somanath is one of the key rocket scientists behind development of ISRO’s heaviest rocket, GSLV Mk III, which launched Chandrayaan-2, and is being geared for launch of the first Indian human space mission, the Gaganyaan mission, around 2022. After Chandrayaan-2 mission experienced a hiccup on July 15 this year, when the launch was aborted due to a technical glitch, Somanath’s team put the GSLV Mk III back on track in a week for launch on July 22.
Somanath has also been involved in development of throttle-able engines for ISRO’s space programme, which allows it to develop new rockets. The throttle-able engine technology was present on Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander — it was key to reducing the lander’s velocity before landing on the Moon. Somanath was also the project director for a December 2014 GSLV Mk III development mission where a Crew Module Atmospheric Re-Entry Experiment — a precursor to the human space flight — was successfully demonstrated.
An ISRO veteran, with over 30 years of service, Somanath has a Masters’ degree in aerospace engineering from the IISc.
V Narayanan, director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre
Shortly after GSLV Mk III rocket successfully put Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft in its desired orbit in space on July 22, ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) put out a message congratulating its scientists for the the successful launch. “L110 and C25 stages delivered by LPSC performed brilliantly during the launch,” the message said, in a reference to the performance of the twin L110 or liquid fuel Vikas engines and the C25 cryogenic engine — both designed and developed by LPSC. The centre’s director, Narayanan, is one of the foremost experts on cryogenic propulsion technologies — a technology denied to India in the past — and is a former project director for the C25 cryogenic project.
M Vanitha, project director, Chandrayaan-2
She is the first woman to be a project director for an ISRO planetary mission. The communication systems engineer, who took over as the project director for Chandrayaan-2 around 20 months ago, has been a single-point authority for getting the whole system configured, reviewed, implemented, assembled and guided to the landing. A longstanding member of the digital systems group at ISRO’s U R Rao Satellite Centre (formerly ISRO Satellite Centre), she served as associate director for Chandrayaan-2 mission before being appointed as the project director.
Vanitha won the best woman scientist award from the Astronautical Society of India in 2006 and was featured by international science journal Nature among its list of scientists to watch out for in 2019.
Ritu Karidhal, mission director, Chandrayaan-2
An aerospace engineer, Karidhal has been responsible for guiding Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft through its space journey. She held overall responsibility for insertion of the spacecraft into the lunar orbit, and for its final descent on Moon. She was an operations director, assisting mission director V Kesava Raju for ISRO’s Mars mission in 2013-14.
Karidhal has a Masters degree in aerospace engineering from IISc and comes from Lucknow.
P Kunhikrishnan, director, U R Rao Satellite Centre
The satellite centre played a central role in development of the components of Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft — the orbiter, the Vikram lander, and the Pragyaan rover. While early work on the spacecraft began when Chandrayaan-1 project director M Annadurai headed the centre, the project was pushed to realisation under Kunhikrishnan. With a Russian collaboration to build the lander and rover falling through, it was left to the satellite centre to develop the lander and the rover from scratch.
An ISRO veteran, Kunhikrishnan is a former director of its PSLV rocket programme and was responsible for carrying out 13 successive, flawless PSLV missions between 2010 and 2015, including the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013.
V V Srinivasan, director, ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC)
Since the launch of Chandrayaan-2, health, performance and trajectory of the spacecraft was monitored and controlled from a Mission Operations Centre of ISTRAC in Bengaluru, on the basis of signals sent between Chandrayaan-2 and high-end receivers located at ISTRAC’s Indian Deep Space Network ground station facility outside the city. ISTRAC was responsible for all communication with Chandrayaan-2’s lander and rover once lowered to the Moon’s surface.
Srinivasan has worked as a communications engineer for several years at ISRO’s satellite centre. He also played a key role in development of a 32-metre Deep Space Network terminal for Chandrayaan-1 mission.