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Nambi Narayanan Says ISRO Would've Sent Astronauts To Space, Competed With Musk If...

Nambi Narayanan, along with R Madhavan, appeared at Republic Media Network's 'Nation Wants to Know' and discussed alternate realities of India's space sector.

Bollywood News
| Written By
Harsh Vardhan

Image: Republic

Padma Bhushan awardee and ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan had aspirations of making India a space superpower, but the dream was killed by false allegations of espionage back in the 1990s. In a super-exclusive conversation with Republic Media Network's Editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, Narayanan reflected on his past and discussed where ISRO and India's space prowess would have been today had he not been framed as a 'traitor'.

During a deep-diving conversation with the reel life Nambi-- R Madhavan-- beside him, the game-changing scientist even stated that India would've sent its astronauts to space by now and might have been competing with the world's most profitable private space company SpaceX owned by Elon Musk.

Narayanan's 'what ifs' on India's position as a space power

When asked what would've happened if Narayanan was not accused of espionage in 1994 and had his cryogenic engine development project stayed unhindered, the scientist said that we would've had a more powerful launch capability much earlier.

"Probability-wise, we would have made the cryogenic technology perfect as originally planned (schedule of the year 1999 or 2000). After this problem started in 1994; if the Russian contract would have gone through, we would have gotten the cryogenic technology without any difficulty", Narayanan said. 

Cryogenic technology is basically the usage of cryogenic propellant for a rocket engine. The cryogenic propellant includes liquid oxygen (-183°C) and liquid hydrogen (-253°C) and a cryogenic rocket stage promises much higher fuel efficiency and thrust for every kilogram of propellant it burns compared to solid and earth-storable liquid propellant stages. Notably, this is the same technology that will put Indian astronauts in space under the Gaganyaan mission.

However, the cryogenic engine came to ISRO after years of delay as the US interfered with India's deal, of buying two cryogenic engines and technology, with Russia which it had signed in 1991. Owing to America's interference, India only received the engines as the US believed ISRO would use the technology to make nuclear missiles. India's dream was finally realised in 2014, almost 15 years late, when ISRO flew its rocket with the completely indigenously made cryogenic engine, 11 years after the first testing in 2003. 

Narayanan recalled that the satellite industry was a $300 billion market at the time and had ISRO developed a higher payload carrying capability by the early 2000s, it could have capitalised on a large chunk of the market if not the whole. "Why I say this money would have come to us is because ours is a reliable system. I told you earlier that the Vikas engine has never failed. Now a) you are reliable and b) your cost is one-third of others' cost". The aforementioned Vikas engine is a creation of Narayanan and it is a contribution that still powers ISRO's rockets.

As for ISRO's cost-effectiveness, it can be measured by the fact that India's Mars mission Mangalyaan, which launched on November 5, 2013, was cheaper than the Hollywood movie Gravity ($100 million).

Chandrayaan & Mangalyaan's were timepass projects: Narayanan

Talking about India's interplanetary ambitions, Narayanan said that aerospace engineer and former ISRO chairman Prof. Satish Dhawan focused only on satellite launches at the time and left interplanetary missions to the next generation. He, however, said that the planning for missions like Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan, which he called 'timepass projects' due to their 'peanuts' for payload, might have also started much earlier. 

"What you saw Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan are only timepass kind of projects. We had the systems so why not we try that? And we successfully did that in Mangalyaan. We were only experimenting (with) it", Narayanan said. "The payload was peanut, I think it is 15 kg or so". He further stated that the mission Gaganyaan, wherein ISRO would send an Indian astronaut into space would have been realised by now and we would've been competing with Elon Musk and other private companies in the business of space tourism, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic just to name a few. 

He added that India would have done extremely well in the commercial space industry and the seed for space travel would have been sown. 

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