Indian Space History Memory Monologues - Sudarshan P
Sudarshan, recruit of Prof Sarabhai in the 1970 talks about his experiences of indigenous development of 100 critical technologies by ISRO to realise space missions.
[00:00:00] Hi, you are listening to the new space India podcast, a biweekly doc show that exclusively brings insights from the Indian space activities ecosystem. I'm your host nine, the co-founder of India's first space focused think tank spaceport. Guests on the new space in depth podcast, help you understand space activities related macro and micro trends within India, in all aspects, including space history, local industry space, science, technology, evolution, law, and policy art, and more, the new space in their podcast is supported by Dassault systems, a global leader in providing businesses and people that collaborative virtual environments to enable sustainable innovations.
That's all system solutions, support startups, small and medium scale enterprises and original equipment manufacturers in developing disruptive solutions for space [00:01:00] lunges and satellites. I worked first with the nuclear program for six years, and then the space program for 12 years, exciting times. What did I learn from the nuclear program that I was able to translate?
With the space program, many things, most important thing was after India exploded its first bomb in 19 73, 7 Western countries had imposed severe sanctions on India. The sanctions had not yet affected the space program, but I was sure that they would come so. When I joined the space program, the one of the first things I did was to present a list of a hundred critical items, important for the space program, [00:02:00] mostly materials, but other systems as well, which would be the first to be sanctioned.
If sanctions ever came on the space program, I found that was completely in tune with. I presented, but he wanted me to keep the list secret. So the list was secret until today. I never revealed it to anybody. Oh.
So during the 12 years I was with this role among other things, one of the things I, Jared was too repair and get self. Well, this a hundred items by the time I left this row, Dahlia's 95% of the list was developed and indigenized [00:03:00] by the Indian industry, which was one of my main roles, the self-reliance campaign, a handful of like carbon fiber, cloth, liquid, hydrogen, et cetera.
Followed a couple of years later after I left, I prepared the ground for them. When sanctions from Western countries inevitably came is so was 99% unaffected. I could say totally unaffected. We had prepared the ground for it. Well in advance. That was a bit of a comic epilogue. One of the items in the list of.
Was ammonium perchlorate, which was the main oxidizer for solid proponents. The oxidizer in solid proponents constitutes nearly 70% of the way to the solid propellant,
mainly for boosters solid [00:04:00] boosters, not for small rockets boosters, the main source and populate for the us program for NASA was a Canadian plant, which unfortunately blew.
It's an oxidizer. So if you find a field nearby, it can explore frantic search by the allies reduced nothing. They couldn't get the oxidizer from any of their own allies. The French could produce very little. The Japanese on the other hand could produce more, but the rest of the place, as soon as. Wanted material.
That's very crazy. So finally India was approached. I knew what was happening. I was the chairman of the, uh, technology transfer and director for industry [00:05:00] cooperation. I didn't handle this. I offered NASA the best quality ammonium procreate in bulk at absurdly low. I had a strategy in mind. NASA was delighted.
Absolutely delighted. They couldn't get anything like this anywhere. I asked the puzzle NASA team for commerce department representative in the final negotiations, commerce department, us commerce department representative. That's how it's possible, but they said, okay, we'll get the problem. Is. That ammonium perchlorate was banned for India by those seven countries that could export even a gram of from, from, from India to India and from India, they wanted ammonium booklet in bulk quantities.
So this was the [00:06:00] absurdity, but my office could not sell, provided. The banned list was dumped. That was the only condition. I can lower the price. They can give you more quantities. I can do anything. Remove the band list. They asked me why. I mean, where insisted on this as I do, we're a democracy, we're a democracy.
Somebody in parliament and MP will get up and then ask my prime minister, who is a minister for space. That, what the hell are you doing? Mr. Prime minister, where they exporting the Americans ammonium. Perchlorate when they abandoned for you, what really. Laska commerce department to answer the answer never came from NASA.
This is one of the things I learned that if you cannot overcome, albeit[00:07:00]
one of the things I'm coming to another.
You know, well that committee chairman don't walk out of meetings. They have to chair the meeting. They cannot walk out. I had to set a precedent. I was chatting a docs, FA task force, the D to determine number of additional employees for the suicide center in view of IRS, et cetera, et cetera. Mr. M G gender.
The then head PAG of Isaak and much later founder of the notorious, they was resisted any negotiation at the venue. So seeing no way to proceed. I walked out as a chairman, walked up and resisted all efforts to make me come back much later. then director Isaak came up with a [00:08:00] compromise to let people know.
There are sometimes organizations can make fools of themselves. This was one major occasion. My first major self-imposed job in his role was negating a prestigious project or huge chemicals and propellant group in VSOC. I proposed conversion of three best seat.
presumably going question bought us according to them into substitute for crude oil. And imagine it's a CDOT in some of the seed oils that are even edible. They want to convert them into Croix. Anyway, this was endorsed from the top widely substance publicized, scared government roping, activate tribals to collect the.[00:09:00]
And was about to be funded by this role. I have no choice, but to play spoilsport fast spoils for, I prepared an exhaustive analysis on technical and economic absurdity of scheme, short ectomy, such as the shaker as well, God, press down to send it to eminent economist or shock Mitra. Then France minister has been gone.
That is the end of the. It's once a day, the state government, but when this was sent to them, the economist had no choice, but to cancel it, I earned the eternal. I are off the project protagonist. That was the chemicals materials and properly group in VSS at the biggest group in years, I finally took Rosa Devin as a terminal assurance to hit the sun lever inbox.
Whether then CHAM chairman, Mr. T Thomas [00:10:00] pointed to him, higher value users of tree seed, or slack style, eating cocoa butter. They're working on cocoa butter, Wilson liver, cocoa butter substitute and not crude. This convinced . And that was the end of this project called space. What are they? Spare screwed?
Somewhat technical requirements. Very important was, uh, BB N acrylonitrile acrylic acid. It's a turtle polymer, three ingredients in it who are polymerized together. Well, the backbone of our launch vehicles at the time that is SLV SLV, et cetera, they were using the, [00:11:00] uh, these were the S this was the same solid, proper this Ted polymer for shuttle as well at the same time.
So how to indigenize acrylic acid was a challenge for me and for my scientists, then come up with an elaborate scheme, running to close. To set up a plan for acclimation. So petrochemical specialists like me, if it does have specialized chemicals, I recommended that we forget synthesizing. I think I said completely, but simply hydrolyze act alone trial in which India produce abundantly, produced in bulk and get accurately acid at no great capitalists.
This was on a polymer scientist and a chemist. This was really topsy-turvy [00:12:00] because in large scale acrylonitrile is an intermediate for acrylonitrile and not the other way about you don't take the final product and hydrolyze it, and get the intermediate product. But that is what we needed. We needed acrylic acid in smaller country.
But we were producing accurate right trial in large quantities. So this is what made sense for us. So that was finally reluctantly, uh, absorbed and, uh, and, uh, accepted by scientists.
The organization matters, used to cause.
To unify solid propellants under one head unify the efforts in solid preprints. It had become, it became desirable to put [00:13:00] sprawl solid propellant, huge plant in Shar center and the propeller group in one unified command under single command. So one was in Charlotte center. The other one. The SOC the only right person for this, GMN very experienced, able to command respect.
Really. Mr. Group agreed to report two different buses. One of whom was actually antagonistic to him. Will anybody agree to this as anything like this been done anywhere corporate sector? Anyway, I don't think it was. At that time. I don't think it there. No, not likely at all the center director, obviously Dr.
was this dilemma to me and us to SSE and simply appeal to Mr. [00:14:00] Groups, organization loyalty. We had a very good relationship appeal to his loyalty, which had not been done. He asked me in the end of a half an hour, causation, are you convinced
and Marquez group's consent was promptly taken the bumper cash. The director, the number two man in his role at the time who was unbelieving and quite bemused, he was surprised.
DND session was a great colleague of mine, right? we had a great relationship with a senior colleague in atomic energy. He later partly facilitated my move to space you and aided me professionally. After I quit space in venture capital, [00:15:00] I was always a great admirer of his though. I never cared too much for bureau.
I was a budget director of is through annual budget director of budget, officer of dos department, a space in, and I know the budget meeting process and asked all budget officers to raise their hands, maybe to reprimand them. I protested that one of them have not complied after a long silence session.
Reluctantly did erased is said, you're the person who had the first not rest designed to universal Mo. He was very much feared by all next episode, with the session, many, many of them, the chairman of the negotiating committee to settle our bulk purchase price for nitrogen tetroxide with the potential producer, nitric oxide is the main liquid oxidizer for launch weakens in 2 0 4.
It's called [00:16:00] the public's at the hoc. Session and already got the approval of member finance, four rupees 17 per kilo. When I told him that I'd finalized 13 per kilo, his instant reaction, well, he had already obtained approval for 17 per kilo. Then he submitted his, what he had said then, then caught his breath.
It you'll see, sadly the epilogue sadly lost seven. In a leakage accident in there, the whole plant is a highly toxic material. It's an acid causes nitric acid inside at my instigation. We started a three departments project. So the department of space, [00:17:00] department of electronics and department Automic. To make better.
The source is going to be the third plant in the world to make barely, barely he's an expert in this center
in washy newborn. But at that time,
And I live with BRC technology, totally dependent on BRC for this. What develop it from scratch from laboratory scale, up to pilot scale,
there are a lot of delays because of the bone soon in Bombay and further because of delays in signed harvesting sign next to. There [00:18:00] was a strike of the people who, you know, extract signed and bring it in trucks
after detailed grueling discussion. The representative of MF from Delhi offered to remove any adverse remarks on our Yuri image. Right. If we agree to indicate vindicate, not, not when it gets, sorry. If we agree to blame dag on Berlin, that is if we blame our sister department on beryllium, we will not touch you when it comes to other things.
We live with the adverse remarks. So I stated at this fish pond, Uh, bargaining and refused point blank under any circumstances, [00:19:00] any adverse comments on da? Finally, there are no adverse remarks either on da or BRC or us, but BS. Nope. Yulia mentioned, I mentioned earlier is unsymmetrical diamond. Tell Heidi.
Which is the main fuel in liquid engines or boosters. They produce it in our country now and we produced the handover also the oxidant. Oh, what about the huge difference in size between SLV SLV? And PSLE, there's a huge difference in size. We are not talking of double the size and triple the size and we don't go up 10, 20 times.
So that is PSLE. We just know our workers, the BSSC committee [00:20:00] for this had already selected the same steel, which is used for SLV in Italy, the previous launch vehicles as the booster casing, only the head of materials. And we, he had protested on Dr. Baker. I joked during your high level presentation, by 3d worsen, the project that it repairs a lead that unless you have a much higher tensile strength material, the vehicle won't even lift off what is a joke
and appealed to process down. But the choice must be changed. Dr. Valerie we're at a close rate. Shepherd was a Dell had argued with him against Mel. The logical candidate, according to all of us, because Marlene steel had a high fracture toughness. So that one was reluctant. [00:21:00] I forced him to set up a national expert committee so that you have an excuse that you're gone beyond the bond to the nation.
The national expert committee really had national experts, top class people. Sure. Genius and others were imminent. Metallurgist. The committee endorsed managing still instantly and unanimously in one meeting. Madani well, the only possible producer, here's another comment, a little bit of a comic interlude during negotiations with Madani.
I intercepted the project director of SLV. Bossing a cheater paper to the Melanie managing director. Got it. Believe me, this really happened. There was a price written there. So all our stand was being revealed by [00:22:00] our people to the opposite side.
You can imagine what consequences followed column was a member of our side. Usually unflappable. Even he was Oakridge column. This was the kind of things that are going on. So when we talk technology, we often forget about incidents of this nature, which cause problems, which cause defeats, if you don't prevent it, UDA image.
Chosen liquid fuel, a hyperbolic liquid fuel for PSLE second stage and Mmh for hydrazine for fourth stage after wrong choice of route waste of money and time [00:23:00] and deploying EDPL as the failed vendor that finally the traditional route was chosen under our. A new entrant agreed to produce both in bulk after technology transfer showed them also that dilute UDL Metro was being imported in large quantities into India as a plant growth regulator in Jammu and Kashmir and Mattel position for apple audience.
This is a puzzling application. We also learned it for the. But when we showed it to other sugars is the report. I took a bottle of this material, gave it to them there they are delighted. They quickly made an estimate of what the market would be apart from what they had committed to sell, sell to us. As you [00:24:00] damage as fuel repellent, this started marketing, it started the preparatory market.
And he might have possession and, uh, a double in Kashmir in apple growers. We we're very happy. We did get where it was going. You only wanted to point out to the industry that these are the possibilities that you come across. Why don't you follow it up and profit from it?
The meantime. Just as a reserve action. us, his counterpart in the USSR, in the USSR to reserve a quantity of beauty image for us. If they required, this was agreed to, but never use a completely self-sufficient in endo for your damage. Another others.[00:25:00]
No. The power of walkouts. Oh, unexpectedly, you can walk up. I learned from opposition in parliament as well. I needed the liquid iron hyperbolic oxidizer and hundreds of tons for the PSL program at the end, too, for nitrogen tetroxide went for help in the beginning tonight, nitric acid produces.
Without result, except one deeper fertilizers, a private sector company, very notably directed me to their main competitor at Chelsea, the private sector company, directing me to HLC their main competitor. And he told me that I just may be able to help you with that future expansion, which is correct. [00:26:00] Sure enough.
It just, he was a righteous. And during negotiations with the MD, unfortunately, uh, that MD Mr. Krista multi, I saw that my own. So negotiating team or the chairman or the dairy, I'm not coming here in conclusion. Well, actually stalling. So once again, I stepped out for a separate confidential session with the managing that.
We do agreed on a price much lower than what was approved by our own Humber. France. My team was a mist, unable to react that was acting against me. And one team later, the director of the Providence group center laudatory letter.
This one is about how we scored on the.[00:27:00]
Shakira boosters we're using PBL through about PBL wildly better than I could learn. I tried acrylic acid. So also SLV and SLE SDPB that is hydroxy terminated. Poly beta dial was a superior procreate on lab scale, et cetera, but it was untested in India, but chosen by. No objection to it. PSLE flew successfully before shuttle CBB.
The first flight of SLV had SDPB proponent in the booster, whereas almost equal incised booster. Chatelet boosters, still cutting PBA in the old prevalent I had one tech. And my company as the most [00:28:00] suitable producer of HPV, that MD laughed at me. I taught a requirement of 30 tons per driver, the teachers for annum when their minimum requirement for a material to be produced, what 30,000 times, I'm asking for 30 times a week.
So they're detected returned, wanted to get a desperate call. One month later that they seek out help wondering what help they would require from us since they were asked to vacate their complex on environmental grounds. Does it mean washy? They're a huge complex. They'd been asked by the government to vacate the whole thing and the entire investment.
So wrote to the chemical secretary. A lady called Altima. Bardia citing has GPB as strategic, [00:29:00] which is going to be, it was not that strategic. No sill agreed to produce HTP for us. And the two teams, our chemical engineers and Nelson's chemical engineers. I had a fantastic relationship work very well together to succeed in setting up the plant and even expanding it.
I. Well simultaneously wearing the different hats. One was budget director. Second was director for industry cooperation, and the third was coordinator for proponents, chemicals, materials, and composites, all important ones. I had to negotiate with the deputy chairman planning commission Mamon scene at the time to approve the annual budget.
Is people knew that my budgets were bare bones, very carefully drawn up [00:30:00] and no fat in them. But when we needed much more for major projects, like insight, IRS PSLV, all coming in the same year, their boss flatly refused. Refuse me though. He himself was a member of this space. You suggested that, so that shouldn't, you must tell an audible 5% more than previous year.
That's what your R and D basically it missed the whole point when I needed 60% more that year to avoid seriously hurting the program and the shady ones at my total wit's end. Also scared of what session we'll say I barge into MGK minutes. In the planning commission and poured out my worst, then finally meeting started next morning, man, and launched into space program priorities for 30 minutes [00:31:00] nonstop.
I never heard men and speak so forcefully. I don't men from atomic and it is my budget was cleared. A single cut session. Didn't believe nor did anybody. Because you're talking off going from 90 cross to 300 cores one year
facing bankruptcy, the new PM even assume it all needed a Macata Musk, preferably X well back as an FM, as, as a finance minister, acceptable to the world. Thus one more thing. According to me, this is the main, so one more thing. The end of the row was a family friend and neighbor. Both my parents knew him.
Well, my youngest brother and his younger son, the classmates are [00:32:00] also tutored in physics by my mother. I was in a flight from Delhi with an when the PM to be. I joined him and boredom and Telegu about family matters. A few days later, I realized that he was in that flight with marching orders to wind up in Hyderabad and the turn a spiel.
There's just a coincidence. No, this man is called. I will.
Too many anecdotes with in too many just to it, then it became precedent much later. A few of us, including X's real friends at an informal get together, just shake it. It was not dead. I told them you still guys may not be [00:33:00] able to enter the white house, but cannot get into Russia.
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