Bengaluru: S Somanath, a senior rocket scientist, has been named the tenth chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and secretary of the Department of Space (DoS). He will succeed K Sivan, who will finish his tenure on January 14 after a one-year extension.
Somanath, who is currently serving as director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), told the media, "The most important responsibility is to create a space enterprise in India where all the stakeholders, including DoS, Isro, IN-SPACe, industry, and start-ups, are all part of the efforts to expand the space programme on a bigger scale. This is the primary responsibility."
He was director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre for two and a half years before becoming director of the VSSC (LPSC). Somanath is credited with "energising development activities of the high thrust semi-cryogenic engine, conceiving a fast track hardware realisation and test programme, development of throttleable engines for the Chandrayaan-2 lander, and successful flight of an electric propulsion system in GSAT-9," among other accomplishments.
"Another objective is to align the overall space programme with the vision the government has put forth where DoS has to really become an enabler to cause the expansion of space enterprise in India. This will be done through appropriate legislation, frameworks, and guidelines that have to be put in place," Somanath told the media.
Somanath graduated with honours from TKM College of Engineering in Kollam with a B.Tech in mechanical engineering and a Masters in aeronautical engineering from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) with a gold medal, specialising in "structures, dynamics, and control."
He started at VSSC in 1985 and was a team leader for PSLV integration in the early stages. He oversaw mechanics, pyro systems, integration, and satellite launch service management as the PSLV project manager.
He joined the GSLV MkIII Project in 2003 as a deputy project director, responsible for overall vehicle design, mission design, structural design, and integration, according to Isro records, before becoming the project director of the GSLV Mk-III from June 2010 to 2014. On December 18, 2014, the first experimental flight of the CARE mission was successfully completed under his supervision.
"He is an expert in the area of system engineering of launch vehicles. Somanath's contributions to PSLV and GSLV MkIII were in their overall architecture, propulsion stage design, structural and structural dynamics designs, separation systems, vehicle integration and integration procedures development," VSSC’s description of Somanath reads.
He also headed the LPSC team in the development and qualification of the CE20 cryogenic engine and the C25 stage, both of which were successfully flown on a GSLV MkIII-D1 mission. "He also played a key role in three successful missions of GSLV with indigenous cryogenic stages and eleven successful missions of PSLV with the liquid stages realised by LPSC. Fifteen successful satellite missions were also accomplished with the propulsion systems supplied by LPSC," according to the description.