In a fresh change of guard, ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) director S Somnath has taken charge as the new director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), which is ISRO’s lead centre for launch vehicles.
Soon after taking charge, VSSC new director Somnath told TOI that his priorities will be on technology upgradation of launch vehicle design and to focus on immediate launches including GSLV-Mark (MK) II and PSLV-C41 in Feb. GSAT -MKII (F09) will be for the launch of communication satellite GSAT-6A and PSLV-C41 for launch of Indian remote sensing satellite IRNSS-1I. Then, GSLV-MKII (F10) for Chandrayaan-II, the second Moon mission is slated for April and following that GSLV-MK III is planned for launch, he said.
He is offering leadership for the development of 200 ton Semi-cryogenic engine for future launch vehicles, throttle able engines for lander craft of Chanradrayaan-2 and high thrust electric propulsion systems for future all Electric propulsion satellites. An expert in the area of system engineering of Launch vehicles, Somnath has made contributions in PSLV and GSLV MkIII in their overall architecture, propulsion systems, structural and structural dynamics, separation systems, vehicle integration and integration procedures development.
As a ‘Distinguished Scientist’ grade officer and as director of LPSC at Valiamala here, Somnath was responsible for liquid engines and stages for all launch vehicles and satellite programs of ISRO. Till June, 2015, he was the associate director (Projects) of VSSC and also the project director of GSLV Mk-III Launch vehicle.
Under his leadership as the Project Director, the first Experimental flight of LVM3-X/CARE mission was successfully accomplished on Dec 18, 2014. It was in 1985 that Somnath joined ISRO. He has served as a team leader for Integration of PSLV during its early development phase, its first flight and the successful second flight PSLV-D2. As Project Manager he handled areas of mechanisms, pyro-technique systems and satellite launch service management. He conceived and executed the first time launches of commercial mini satellites and developed small satellite mounting and separation systems which have successfully deployed many commercial satellites.
He joined GSLV MkIII Project during 2003 and was the deputy project director responsible for overall design of the vehicle, mission design, structural design and Integration. He became the project director of GSLV Mk-III from June 2010. He has been the deputy director of the ‘Structures’ Entity in VSSC and also the deputy director of ‘Propulsion and Space Ordinance Entity’ in VSSC till Nov, 2014.
After taking charge as LPSC director in July 2015, he led the LPSC team to realize Indian cryogenic stages for four successful missions of GSLV and 11 successful missions of PSLV with the liquid stages realized by LPSC. Using propulsion systems supplied from LPSC, 15 successful satellites were also launched. Development of CE20 cryogenic engine with 20 ton thrust and C25 stage was completed and GSLV Mk-III- D1 successful flight was accomplished.
His profile reveals that he was University second rank holder in his B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam affiliated to Kerala University and Gold medallist in his Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore with specialization in Structures, Dynamics and Control. A recipient of the ‘Space Gold Medal’ from Astronautical Society of India, Somnath has also received the ‘Merit Award” and ‘Performance Excellence award’ from ISRO and ‘Team excellence award’ for GSLV Mk-III development.
He is a Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE), Fellow of Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI), Astronautical Society of India (ASI) and a corresponding member of International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). Somanath has represented India in UN- COPOUS at Vienna, International Astronautical Federation (IAF)’s International Program Committee. He also represented International Astronautical Congress (IAC) at Hyderabad (2007), Prague (2013), Jerusalem (2015), Mexico (2016) and Adelaide (2017). He is a member of the Technical committee for Space Transportation and IAF’s International Project Management Committee. He has published papers in journals and made presentations in the area of structural dynamics and control, dynamic analysis of separation mechanisms, launch vehicle design and launch services management.