From self-eating rockets to self-vanishing satellites and from make-in-space concepts to quantum communication and radars, ISRO whose role in the coming years would be significantly more focused towards preparing India for the future while private enterprises indulge in day-to-day launches, has initiated 46 projects on futuristic technologies.
These projects have been initiated based on assessment of global advancements and India’s needs for the next four-five decades. Some other critical futuristic technologies are: Self-healing materials, humanoid robotics, space-based-solar-power, intelligent satellites and space-vehicles, AI-based space applications, etc.
Being pursued through the Directorate of Technology Development and Innovation (DTDI) — a futuristic and innovative technology development wing at Isro headquarters — the agency has synergised technological capabilities of its centres and laboratories with a coordinated effort that’ll also see collaborations with national and international experts.
Self-Eating-Rockets & Vanishing Sats Elaborating on some technologies, Isro chairman, K Sivan told TOI on Tuesday: “All our rockets have metal casings that are dropped into the sea after launch or become (final stage) space debris. We are working on a technology where rockets will effectively ‘eat themselves’ leaving no waste dropping into seas and no space debris. For this, we’re looking at special materials for casings that can burn up along with motors.”
Similarly, to further mitigate space debris, self-vanishing satellite technology would enable spacecraft destruction — after its lifetime — through a ‘kill-button’, or a process that will burn it up in-orbit. “Also, when rockets fly, there are defects sometimes, like formation of a crack due to pressure etc. At present, we keep doing multiple checks before clearing anything. Self-healing materials will be those that can correct some of these defects by themselves without interference.
There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. Make-in-space, Smart Sats & LVs Further, with Gaganyaan and space station programmes in its pipeline, Isro has projects to deliver make-in-space concepts, more extensive use of humanoids — Vyomitra, the first attempt at a humanoid, is expected to fly on uncrewed missions — and artificial intelligence (AI) based technologies. It’ll also look at technologies to leverage in situ materials on some celestial bodies. “As we look at a continuous human presence in space, we’ll need things like the proposed space station.
To achieve this, we are looking at enhanced robotic arms, AI-based technologies etc that can make things in space,”Sivan said. Besides, Isro is already working on intelligent satellites and launch vehicles. Some aspects of these have been introduced in the GSLV-MkIII human-rated version, while work on satellites is ongoing. Quantum Leap & Umbrella Agency And, as reported by TOI earlier, Isro, in the first step towards developing quantum satellite technology, successfully demonstrated secure communication between two buildings that were 300 metres apart using free space quantum communication technology in March 2021.
This will be useful for a range of strategic sectors — defence to digital money transactions — while Isro has plans for extending this to satellites as well. All the futuristic and disruptive technologies spearheaded by DTDI — a brainchild of Sivan and headed by R Umamaheshwaran, scientific secretary, department of space — are being materialised by scientists and engineers at various Isro centres across India. Isro is also conducting a five-day conclave that began on Monday. “…While Isro will be the lead agency, as envisaged by the Centre as part of the space reforms, work won’t be restricted to us. We will be roping in startups, academia and even industry,” Sivan added.