Pioneer of Indian rocketry

Print edition : September 11, 1999
Dr. S. Srinivasan, 1941 - 1999.

DR. S.SRINIVASAN, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, who died on September 1, was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Rohini sounding rockets, the Satel lite Launch Vehicle, SLV-3, the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and was looking forward to the lift-off of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota next year. He was fully involved with the GSLV, which entails the application of the frontier technology using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. He was an expert in launch vehicle technology. Srinivasan was 58 and is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.

Dr. Srinivasan was admitted to a hospital in Chennai on August 29 and underwent emergency heart surgery. He had undergone bypass surgery a decade ago. Hundreds of his colleagues from the VSSC and SHAR paid their respects to him in Chennai.


ISRO chairman Dr. K. Kasturirangan, who attended the funeral, told Frontline: "Dr. Srinivasan was an exceptional scientist. He was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of Indian rocketry in more than one sense because in the desi gn, configuration and implementation of a launch vehicle project - in all aspects - he was outstanding. He grew with ISRO, evolved with ISRO and gave the pride of place to ISRO in the comity of space-faring nations."

According to fellow-scientists and engineers, he was a visionary, working on the dream project of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle which would reduce the cost of access to space.

D. Narayana Moorthi, Programme Director, Launch Vehicle Programme Office, ISRO Headquarters, Bangalore, said that Dr. Srinivasan was wedded to technology. Moorthi said: "He was a technologist and a project manager, both moulded together."

BORN on April 14, 1941 in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, Srinivasan took his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering with honours from Annamalai University and M.E. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He received h is doctorate in Engineering Mechanics from Ohio State University, the U.S.

Srinivasan worked for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore as an aeronautical engineer. He joined ISRO in 1970. He was first involved in the development of hardware for the Rohini rockets, and from 1973 started working on the SLV. When A.P.J. A bdul Kalam, now Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, was the Project Director of SLV-3 in 1980, Dr. Srinivasan was the Deputy Project Director. They formed a great team and the launch of SLV-3 in 1980 from SHAR was hugely successful; it deployed a 35-kg Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit. Then followed a series of SLV-3 flights. According to Rajaram Nagappa, Associate Director, VSSC, Dr. Srinivasan was instrumental in the design and development, qualification and realisation of the flight stage s of the SLV-3.

Dr. Srinivasan was the Project Director of the PSLV in its formative stages. He became the Programme Director of the Integrated Launch Vehicle Programme in 1988 and contributed to the planning of the follow-on PSLVs, GSLVs and advanced vehicles. He was D irector, SHAR, for a brief period, after which he became Director, VSSC, in 1994.

Nagappa said that after the first two ASLV flights failed, Dr. Srinivasan provided a re-configuration to the vehicle by adding fins and other features, giving controllability to the vehicle. The next two ASLV flights were successful.

Narayana Moorthi said that Dr. Srinivasan was responsible for the evolution of the PSLV from the drawing stage to its commercial launch on May 26, 1999 when it lifted three satellites - Indian Remote-Sensing Satellite (IRS), a German satellite and a Sout h Korean spacecraft. According to Nagappa, even as Dr. Srinivasan gave shape to the PSLV's configuration, design and development, he simultaneously conceived, planned and established the facilities needed for the project. These included vehicle integrati on and checkout facilities at Valiamala and Thumba, Kerala, and at SHAR, Andhra Pradesh.

A characteristic trait of Dr. Srinivisan was that even as he was working on one project, he would scout around for future projects. He kept track of developments in space in other countries and decided what speciality ISRO should develop. Narayana Moorth i said, "He was thinking of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle."

In the assessment of G. Madhavan Nair, Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, ISRO, Dr. Srinivasan "was a master of vehicle technology. Besides, he was one person who could cover any aspect in the field. PSLV was his dream baby."

R.V. Perumal, Project Director, GSLV, said: "He was a builder. He was a man of grand ideas, which were substantially met. He was a good man to a fault."

There was all round praise about the human side of Dr. Srinivasan too. S. Ramakrishnan, Project Director, PSLV, said: "He was a positive person. He was a good leader."

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