Hoping for a Supernova

Image credit: Hubble

Astronomers from the European Space Agency are tracking hundreds of galaxies with the Hubble Space Telescope, hoping that one or more stars will eventually explode as a supernova. They can then look back through the data and find the individual star that exploded – this would mean it was in the final stages of its life. So far, supernova have only been tracked back to two “mother stars” so far, so astronomers really need more of this data to help understand the conditions that cause a star to go supernova.

A team of European astronomers is using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to look back in time. They have imaged the spiral galaxy NGC 3982 and hundreds of other galaxies in the hope that one of the millions of stars in these images will some day explode as a supernova. They can then look back and pinpoint the exact star that has exploded. Only two such supernova ‘mother stars’ have ever been identified.

The fantastic resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope allows individual massive stars in other galaxies to be detected. A team from Cambridge and Trieste have used Hubble and ESO?s Very Large Telescope to image NGC 3982 and several hundred other nearby galaxies in the hope that a few of the stars in these images will explode as supernovae in the future.

When a star of more than 10 times the mass of our Sun reaches the end of its nuclear fuel reserve, it can no longer produce enough energy to keep it from collapsing under its own immense weight. The core of the star collapses, and the outer layers are ejected in a fast-moving shock wave. These supernova explosions are at the heart of our understanding of the evolution of galaxies and the formation of the chemical elements in the Universe. Yet astronomers have been able to identify only two stars that later exploded as supernovae with any confidence.

Supernovae have many different characteristics and understanding exactly which type of star produces which kind of supernova is a fundamental challenge. To find these supernova ‘mother stars’, the team has undertaken this intensive study of the nearby Universe and is now playing a waiting game.

It appears that typical spiral galaxies produce one supernova roughly every 100 years and so the team has to study a large number of galaxies to stand a chance of being lucky enough to catch a star before it destroys itself and becomes either a neutron star or a black hole.

By using the most powerful telescopes both in space and on the ground to take images at different optical and infrared wavelengths, the temperature, luminosity, radius and mass of the stars that later explode can be estimated. This will allow astronomers to see exactly which types of stars produce supernovae and to test if their theories for the origins of these cosmic explosions are correct.

The beautiful galaxy NGC 3982 is a typical spiral galaxy and looks just as our own galaxy, the Milky Way, would if we could view it face on. It harbours a huge black hole at its core and has massive regions of star formation in the bright blue knots in the spiral arms. Supernovae are most likely to be found within these energetic regions.

Original Source: ESA News Release

NASA Safety Panel Resigns

Image credit: NASA

All nine members of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel handed in their resignations on Tuesday in the wake of criticism from the Columbia accident investigation report and Congress. The panel was originally formed after the Apollo 1 accident killed three astronauts in a fire in 1967, and included space engineers, scientists, and aerospace industry experts. NASA is now in the process of evaluating the structure of the safety panel to make it more effective in the future.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe accepted letters of resignation from all 11 members and consultants of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). Congress first chartered the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel in the aftermath of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 to act as an independent body to advise the NASA Administrator on the safety of operations, facilities, and personnel.

ASAP chair Shirley McCarty said in a cover letter to the Administrator, “This will give you and the Congress the freedom to revitalize the Panel and reshape its charter and mission.”

“Reflecting on the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and the process failures identified in its report, it’s evident that a wide range of oversight functions should be strengthened within the agency,” said Administrator O’Keefe. “We need to take this opportunity to explore how the original concept for an Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel needs to evolve to best meet the future needs of the agency.”

NASA has already started the initial evaluation process to revise the panel’s charge, based on congressional reaction to the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The agency also will review the original 1967 ASAP charter and its amendments.

“I want to send my personal gratitude to the panel members for their work and dedication to NASA,” added Administrator O’Keefe. “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us as we prepare to safely return to flight. A comprehensive review of the panel and its role in our safety objectives will be vital in the coming weeks as we move forward.”

Original Source: NASA News Release

Smart-1 is Ready for Launch

Image credit: ESA

The European Space Agency’s Smart-1 spacecraft has been mated to the top of its Ariane 5 rocket, and everything is ready to go for its September 27th launch. Smart-1’s primary mission will be to test out new technologies, including solar electric (ion) propulsion and autonomous navigation. Even though it’s launching in just a few days, it will arrive at the Moon in January 2005, where it will begin analyzing the chemical composition of the Moon’s surface. It will also search for evidence of water ice at the Moon’s southern pole.

Europe’s first mission to the Moon will soon be under way, and UK scientists are looking forward to unravelling some of the secrets of our neighbouring world.

SMART-1 – the European Space Agency’s first Small Mission for Advanced Research in Technology -is now expected to lift off from Kourou, French Guiana, just after midnight on Sunday, 28 September.

Although it is primarily intended to demonstrate innovative technologies such as solar-electric (ion) propulsion and autonomous navigation, SMART-1 also carries a number of scientific experiments that will provide new insights into some of the unanswered questions about our nearest celestial neighbour.

On arrival in lunar orbit (expected to be in January 2005), these instruments will search for signs of water ice in permanently shaded craters near the Moon’s poles, provide data on the still uncertain origin of the Moon, and reconstruct its evolution by mapping the surface distribution of minerals and key chemical elements.

The main UK contribution is a compact X-ray spectrometer known as D-CIXS (pronounced dee-kicks), which has been developed by Principal Investigator, Professor Manuel Grande, and his team at CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. D-CIXS will help to determine the elements that make up the lunar surface and so provide important information about how the Moon was formed.

“Despite decades of research, we have never fully discovered what the Moon is made of,” said Professor Grande. “The Apollo missions only explored the equatorial regions on the Earth-facing side of the Moon, while other spacecraft only investigated surface colour or searched for water and heavy elements. D-CIXS will provide the first global X-ray map of the elements that make up the Moon.

“X-rays from the Sun cause atoms in the lunar surface to fluoresce – rather like the gas in the fluorescent tubes that light our offices and homes – so that they emit X-rays of their own. D-CIXS will measure the Moon’s composition by detecting these X-rays coming from the lunar surface. The precise energy carried by each X-ray tells us the element that is emitting it.

“This information will provide us with vital clues to help us understand the origins of our Moon.”

In order to create an instrument that is the size of a toaster and weighs just 4.5 kilograms, the D-CIXS team had to miniaturise the components and develop new technology such as novel X-ray detectors – based on new swept charge devices (similar to the charged couple devices found in digital cameras) and microfabricated collimators with walls no thicker than a human hair.

Other UK institutions involved in D-CIXS are:- University of Sheffield, Queen Mary University of London, Natural History Museum, Armagh Observatory, University College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the University of Manchester.

Dr. Sarah Dunkin of CCLRC-RAL and University College London is also a Co-Investigator on the SMART-1 Infrared Spectrometer (SIR), which will search for ice and produce a global map of lunar minerals.

The main UK industrial involvement is by SEA Group Ltd, who helped to develop the Ka-band Telemetry and Telecommand Experiment (KaTE) which will test more efficient communication techniques for deep space missions.

Original Source: RAS News Release

New Map of Debris Around the Milky Way

Image credit: University of Virginia

A new survey of the stars surrounding the Milky Way has produced a detailed map of how streams of stars and debris are being added to our galaxy. Researchers from the University of Virginia used data from the 2MASS sky survey to map out the Sagittarius galaxy which wraps around the Milky Way in a long stream of stars. They were able to distinguish between galaxies because a certain class of stars, called M giants, are much more common in Sagittarius – when they tuned their search to just look for these stars, Sagittarius “popped into view”.

Thousands of stars stripped from the nearby Sagittarius dwarf galaxy are streaming through our vicinity of the Milky Way galaxy, according to a new view of the local universe constructed by a team of astronomers from the University of Virginia and the University of Massachusetts.

Using volumes of data from the Two-Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), a major project to survey the sky in infrared light led by the University of Massachusetts, the astronomers are answering questions that have baffled scientists for decades and proving that our own Milky Way is consuming one of its neighbors in a dramatic display of ongoing galactic cannibalism. The study, to be published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, is the first to map the full extent of the Sagittarius galaxy and show in visually vivid detail how its debris wraps around and passes through our Milky Way. Sagittarius is 10,000 times smaller in mass than the Milky Way, so it is getting stretched out, torn apart and gobbled up by the bigger Milky Way.

“It’s clear who’s the bully in the interaction,” said Steven Majewski, U.Va. professor of astronomy and lead author on the paper describing the results.

In model images made to show the interaction in 3-D, available at http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~mfs4n/sgr/, the Milky Way appears as a flattened disk with spiral arms, while Sagittarius is visible as a long flourish of stars swirling first under and then over and onto the Milky Way disk.

“If people had infrared-sensitive eyes, the entrails of Sagittarius would be a prominent fixture sweeping across our sky,” Majewski said. “But at human, visual wavelengths, they become buried among countless intervening stars and obscuring dust. The great expanse of the Sagittarius system has been hidden from view.”

Not any more. By using infrared maps, the astronomers filtered away millions of foreground stars to focus on a type of star called an M giant. These large, infrared-bright stars are populous in the Sagittarius galaxy but uncommon in the outer Milky Way. The 2MASS infrared map of M giant stars analyzed by Majewski and collaborators is the first to give a complete view of our galaxy’s meal of Sagittarius stars, now wrapping like a spaghetti noodle around the Milky Way. Prior to this work, astronomers had detected only a few scattered pieces of the disrupted Sagittarius dwarf. Even the existence of Sagittarius was unknown until the heart of this nearest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way was discovered by a British team of astronomers in 1994.

“We sifted several thousand interesting stars from a catalog of half a billion,” said co-author Michael Skrutskie, U.Va. professor of astronomy and principal investigator for the 2MASS project. “By tuning our maps of the sky to the ‘right’ kind of star, the Sagittarius system jumped into view.”

“This first full-sky map of Sagittarius shows its extensive interaction with the Milky Way,” Majewski said. “Both stars and star clusters now in the outer parts of the Milky Way have been ‘stolen’ from Sagittarius as the gravitational forces of the Milky Way nibbled away at its dwarf companion. This one vivid example shows that the Milky Way grows by eating its smaller neighbors.”

“Astronomers used to view galaxy formation as an event that happened in the distant past,” noted David Spergel, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University after viewing the new finding. “These observations reinforce the idea that galaxy formation is not an event, but an ongoing process.”

The study’s map of M giants depicts 2 billion years of Sagittarius stripping by the Milky Way, and suggests that Sagittarius has reached a critical phase in what had been a slow dance of death.

“After slow, continuous gnawing by the Milky Way, Sagittarius has been whittled down to the point that it cannot hold itself together much longer,” said 2MASS Science Team member and study co-author Martin Weinberg of the University of Massachusetts. “We are seeing Sagittarius at the very end of its life as an intact system.”

Does this mean we are at a unique moment in the life of our galaxy? Yes and no.

“Whenever possible, astronomers appeal to the principle that we are not at a special time or place in the universe,” Majewski said. “Because over the 14 billion-year history of the Milky Way it is unlikely that we would just happen to catch a brief event like the death of Sagittarius, we infer that such events must be common in the life of big spiral galaxies like our own. The Milky Way probably dined on a number of dwarf galaxy snacks in the past.”

On the other hand, Majewski and his colleagues have been surprised by the Earth’s proximity to a portion of the Sagittarius debris.

“For only a few percent of its 240 million-year orbit around the Milky Way galaxy does our Solar System pass through the path of Sagittarius debris,” Majewski said. “Remarkably, stars from Sagittarius are now raining down onto our present position in the Milky Way. Stars from an alien galaxy are relatively near us. We have to re-think our assumptions about the Milky Way galaxy to account for this contamination.”

The new findings will help astronomers measure the total mass of the Milky Way and Sagittarius galaxies, and probe the quantity and distribution of the invisible dark matter in these systems.

“The shape of the Sagittarius debris trail shows us that the Milky Way’s unseen dark matter is in a spherical distribution, a result that is quite unexpected,” Weinberg said.

“The observations provide new insights into the nature of the mysterious dark matter,” said Princeton’s Spergel. “Either our galaxy is unusual or the dark matter has richer properties than postulated by conventional models.”

2MASS was a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation funded the project. Additional funding for the Sagittarius study with 2MASS came from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Research Corporation.

Original Source: University of Virginia News Release

A Few Small Changes

I made a couple of improvements to Universe Today yesterday, including “Printer-friendly pages”. At the bottom of any article on the site now is a link to a printer version of the article. I’ve done a couple of tests and it looks pretty good on my laser printer. Please let me know if you have any problems with it.

A bigger change, however, is that I’m going to be moving the site to a dedicated server in the next few days. It’s a pretty big time commitment, so there might be some delays.

Oh, and I removed that black background on the newsletter – it was making it difficult for people to just reply to the newsletter if they wanted to send me an email. And I like to receive email. 🙂


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

Small Telescope Helps Make Observations on Titan

Image credit: NASA

Sarah Horst, a planetary sciences major at Caltech, helped astronomers track cloud formations on Saturn’s moon Titan using only a fourteen inch telescope – in Los Angeles. Researchers needed a way to track Titan night after night for several months, but no large observatory could provide this much time to carry out detailed observations. Horst set up an old teaching telescope to track the intensity of light coming from Titan. Whenever something unusual happened, her associates would contact Keck for detailed photographs.

Meet Sarah Horst, throwback. The planetary science major, a senior at the California Institute of Technology, spent six months engaged in a bit of old-time telescope observing. The work led to some breakthrough research about Saturn’s moon Titan, and indirectly led to funding for a new telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory.

Horst, 21, was looking for a part-time job in the summer of her sophomore year, and was hired by Mike Brown, an associate professor of planetary astronomy. Brown and graduate student Antonin Bouchez knew there had been previous evidence of “weather” on Titan in the form of clouds. But that evidence was elusive. “Someone would look one year and think they saw a cloud, then look the next year and not see a cloud,” explains Brown. “What we were after was a way to look at Titan, night after night after night.”

The problem, of course, is that all of the large telescopes like Keck are incredibly busy, booked by astronomers from around the world who use the precious time for their own line of research. So Brown and Bouchez knew that obtaining large amounts of time for a single project like this was not going to happen.

The solution: Use an old teaching telescope–the hoary 14-inch Celestron telescope located on top of Caltech’s Robinson Lab–to do cutting edge science that couldn’t be done at the largest telescopes in the world, in Hawaii.

Though the power of the Robinson telescope is weak, and light pollution from Pasadena strong, which prevents imaging the actual clouds, the light reflecting from clouds could be imaged (the more clouds, the more light that’s reflected). All that was needed was someone who could come night after night and take multiple images.

Enter Horst, the self-described “lowly undergraduate.” For months, Horst spent her evenings in Robinson. “I did the setup, which involved a wheel that contained four light filters,” she explains. Each filter would capture a different wavelength of light. Software switched the filters; all she had to do, says Horst, was to orientate and focus the telescope.

Now, modern-day astronomers have it relatively easy when using their telescope time. Sure they’re up all night, but they sit on a comfortable chair in a warm room, hot coffee close at hand, and do their observing through a computer monitor that’s connected to a telescope.

Not Horst. She did it the old way, in discomfort. “A lot of times in December or January I’d go in late at night, and it would be freezing,” says Horst, who runs the 800-meter for the Caltech track team. “I’d wrap myself up in blankets.” Horst spent hours in the dark, since the old dome itself had to be dark. “I couldn’t even study,” she says, “although sometimes I tried to read by the light of the moon.”

A software program written by Bouchez plotted the light intensity from each image on a graph. When a particular image looked promising, Bouchez contacted Brown. As a frequent user of the Keck Observatory, which is powerful enough to take an image of the actual clouds, Brown was able to call colleagues who were using the Keck that night and quickly convince them that something exciting was going on. “It only took about ten minutes to get a quick image of Titan,” says Brown. “The funny part was having to explain to them that we knew there were clouds because we had seen the evidence in our 14-inch telescope in the middle of the L.A. basin.”

The result was “Direct Detection of Variable Tropospheric Clouds Near Titan’s South Pole,” which appeared in the December 19 journal Nature. It included this acknowledgement: “We thank . . . S. Horst for many nights of monitoring Titan in the cold.”

The paper has helped Brown obtain the funding to build a new 24-inch custom-built telescope. It will be placed in its own building atop Palomar Mountain, on the grounds of Caltech’s existing observatory. It’s also roboticized; Brown will control the scope from Pasadena via a computer program he has written.

He’ll use it for further observation of Titan and for other imaging, as well, such as fast-moving comets. “Most astronomy is big,” notes Brown; “big scopes looking at big, unchanging things, like galaxies. I like to look at changing things, which led to this telescope.”

What really made this project unique, though, according to Brown, is the Robinson scope. “Sarah was able to do something with this little telescope in Pasadena that no one in the world, on any of their larger professional telescopes on high, dark mountaintops, had been able to do,” he says. “Sometimes a good idea and stubbornness are better than the largest telescope in town.”

For Horst, while the work wasn’t intellectually challenging–“a trained monkey could have done it,” she says with a laugh–it was, nonetheless, “a cool project. Everything here is so theoretical and tedious, and so classroom orientated. So in that way it was a nice experience and reminded me what real science was about.”

Original Source: Caltech News Release

Sea Launch Heads Out for Next Launch

Image credit: Sea Launch

The Sea Launch Commander and the Odyssey launch platform headed out to sea on Monday, beginning the journey to reach the equator in the Pacific Ocean. This time around, Sea Launch will be launching the Galaxy XIII/Horizons-1 satellite on board a three-stage Zenit 3SL rocket. The launch window begins at 0403 GMT October 1 (12:03 am EDT). Once it reaches geosynchronous orbit, the satellite will provide digital video, Internet and data services to North America.

The Odyssey Launch Platform and the Sea Launch Commander have embarked on their transit to the Equator for the launch of the Galaxy XIII/Horizons-1 satellite for PanAmSat Corporation and JSAT Corporation. Liftoff is scheduled for September 30, during a 39-minute launch window that opens at 9:03 pm PDT (4:03:00 GMT, October 1).

The Sea Launch vessels are sailing from Sea Launch Home Port, in the Port of Long Beach, Calif., to the launch site on the Equator at 154? West Longitude. Upon arrival, the launch team will initiate a 72-hour countdown, ballasting the Launch Platform to launch depth and performing final tests on the rocket and spacecraft. The three-stage Zenit-3SL rocket will lift the 4090 kg (9,081 lb) Galaxy XIII/Horizons-1 satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. This is the third mission Sea Launch is executing for PanAmSat, having previously launched PAS-9 in July 2000 and Galaxy IIIC in June 2002.

The Boeing-built 601 HP spacecraft is designed to offer a variety of digital video, Internet and data services to North America, Central America, Alaska and Hawaii. The spacecraft’s Ku-band payload, designated Horizons-1, supports the Horizons joint venture of PanAmSat and JSAT. This venture provides expanded Ku-band services in North America and extended services to Japan and Asia via a Hawaii-based relay station. The C-band portion is known as Galaxy XIII and will be operated separately as part of PanAmSat’s Galaxy cable neighborhood, which serves the U.S. cable industry.

Sea Launch Company, LLC, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif., is a world leader in providing heavy-lift commercial launch services. This multinational partnership offers the most direct and cost-effective route to geostationary orbit. With the advantage of a launch site on the Equator, the reliable Zenit-3SL rocket can lift a heavier spacecraft mass or provide longer life on orbit, offering best value plus schedule assurance. Sea Launch has a current backlog of 15 firm launch contracts. For additional information and live coverage of this mission, visit the Sea Launch website at: www.sea-launch.com

Note to editors: Sea Launch will carry a live satellite feed and streaming video of the entire mission on the day of launch. We will post transponder coordinates as well as additional information and high resolution images on a media site at: www.boeing.com/nosearch/sealaunch/

Original Source: Boeing News Release

Orbital Space Plane Review Completed

NASA’s Orbital Space Plane program reached an important milestone this week with the completion of its Level 1 requirements review. The review evaluated designs from several contractors for a spacecraft which will provide crew rescue and transfer of personnel to and from the International Space Station. This review was to ensure the proposed vehicles are safe, reliable, affordable, and can be maintained. The review team has also put forth their Level 2 requirements, which are much detailed and describe many features that the proposed designs must include.

NASA’s Orbital Space Plane program has successfully completed its Systems Requirements Review to evaluate the concept design of the nation?s next space vehicle ? aimed at providing crew rescue and transfer for the International Space Station. In addition, the review set Level II requirements ? guidelines that further narrow the scope of the system design.

NASA’s Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program is one step closer to becoming the nation’s next space vehicle with the successful completion of its Systems Requirements Review. The review evaluated the vehicle’s concept design for providing crew rescue and transfer for the International Space Station.

The NASA-led review evaluated contractor designs based on the primary design criteria, or Level 1 requirements, set by the agency in February. The contractor teams designing the OSP, The Boeing Company, Seal Beach, Calif.; Lockheed Martin, Denver; and a team including Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., and Northrop Grumman, El Segundo, Calif., have been working to develop system specifications, including systems analysis, trade studies, and concept feasibility in preparation for the review.

The System Requirements Review includes analysis of requirements and supporting technical documentation to ensure the system is safe, reliable, maintainable and affordable. It is one in a series of reviews that occurs before the Orbital Space Plane system is built.

In addition, the review set Level 2 requirements, guidelines that further narrow the scope and add a level of detail to the system design. The Level 2 requirements address guidelines for safety, launch, emergency-return and crew-transfer missions, mission frequency, on-orbit mission duration, contingency cargo requirements, and docking and interfacing with the Space Station. The requirements also include limits on the gravitational loads on the crew, health monitoring of the crew, communications with the Space Station and mission control on Earth, reliability, system lifetime, and logistics. Each level of requirements provides a narrower parameter for the design of the vehicle system.

“This review is a critical step in making the Orbital Space Plane a reality,” said Dennis Smith, Orbital Space Plane program manager. “These requirements are the instruction manual for designing the entire system that will provide safe, reliable access to and from the International Space Station,” he said.

The Level 2 requirements are contained in a package of technical documents and plans, which include the Orbital Space Plane Systems Requirements Document, the International Space Station Interface Requirements Document, the Orbital Space Plane to Expendable Launch Vehicle Interface Definition Document, and the Orbital Space Plane Human Rating Plan, along with other reference and guidance documentation. An executive summary of the Level 2 requirements is on the OSP Web site. Following review of the documentation for export-control and security issues, the Level 2 documentation also will be available online.

A System Definition Review is scheduled for November 2003. It will include a further, more focused evaluation of the concept design including risk reduction and breakdown of the functional elements of the system based on the Level 2 requirements. The review also will set Level 3 requirements for the Orbital Space Plane system based on evaluation of the program objectives and contractor feedback.

The program is scheduled to issue a request for proposal to the three contractor teams in November 2003. A decision to develop a full-scale vehicle system is expected in 2004.

For the executive summary and other information about the Orbital Space Plane, visit:


Original Source: NASA News Release

New Areas in the Forum

I’ve added a couple of new areas to the Universe Today Forums which I think will be pretty helpful. The first is a Totally Off-Topic area where people can yack about stuff that has nothing to do with space and astronomy. Hopefully that will keep the rest of the forums purely about space.

A more useful area, however, is “Questions and Answers“. If you’ve got a nagging question about space or a current mission, go ahead and ask it here. People in the forum will try and help you out, and I’ll also be submitting the really tough questions to experts in space and astronomy so we can help get to the bottom of this for you.

Come and join us!

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

P.S. Thanks to the overwhelming number of you who replied to my last email. There’s definitely an email delay to some of you. I’m working with my hosting provider to get to the bottom of this.

Madhavan Nair Selected as New Chairman of ISRO

Image credit: ISRO

Mr. G Madhavan Nair has been appointed as the new Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Previous to this new position, Nair was the Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, and has been involved in the agency since 1967 when he was first hired at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station. His predecessor, Dr K Kasturirangan, left the position after he was nominated for India’s Upper House of Parliament.

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has appointed Mr G Madhavan Nair as Secretary, Department of Space, Chairman Space Commission and Chairman, ISRO. Mr Madhavan Nair, who was Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, was holding additional charge of these posts since September 1, 2003 after Dr K Kasturirangan relinquished the office consequent to the President of India nominating him as Member of Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament).

Mr Madhavan Nair is a leading technologist in the field of Rocket Systems. He has made significant contributions to the development of multistage Satellite Launch Vehicles for the Indian space programme. As Director, VSSC, he has led research and development in the area of satellite launch vehicles for orbiting spacecraft for remote sensing and communications.

After graduating in Engineering from Kerala University in 1966, Mr Madhavan Nair underwent training at Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), Mumbai, and joined Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1967. Since then, he has held various positions posting illustrious milestones on his way to the present position. He made impressive contributions to the first Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle, SLV-3. Subsequently, as Project Director, he brought to fruition the development of India’s first operational Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV. With six successful launches so far, PSLV has convincingly demonstrated its reliability for not only launching multiple satellites including placing them in different orbits in a single launch but also its capability to place satellites in Geo-synchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). PSLV is also proposed for launching India’s unmanned lunar craft under Chandrayaan-1 mission. Mr Madhavan Nair, also contributed to the indigenous development of cryogenic technology and as Dire
ctor, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre during 1995-99, he gave concrete shape for the vital infrastructure for its development.

Mr Madhavan Nair took over as the Director of VSSC in 1999 and in the following two years led the successful flight of GSLV in the very first attempt followed by another successful flight in May 2003. GSLV has since been commissioned into operational service for launching 2000 kg class satellites into GTO.

Mr Madhavan Nair has been the leader of the Indian delegation to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS). He has received several prestigious awards including Shri Om Prakash Bhasin Award, Swadeshi Sastra Puraskar Award, FIE Foundation Award and Vikram Sarabhai Memorial Gold Medal of ISCA. He was conferred ‘Padma Bhushan’ by the President of India in 1998.

The outgoing Chairman of ISRO, Dr K Kasturirangan, saw during his tenure of nearly a decade, the Indian space programme witnessing several major milestones including the commissioning of India’s prestigious launch vehicle, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and more recently, the commissioning of all important Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). Further, the world’s best civilian remote sensing satellites, IRS-1C and 1D, experimental remote sensing satellites, IRS-P2 and IRS-P3, besides
an exclusive ocean observation satellite IRS-P4 were launched. A 1-m spatial resolution experimental satellite, TES, was also built and launched during his tenure. He also saw the launching of second generation INSAT satellites that vastly enhanced the capacity of INSAT system for telecommunication, television broadcasting and meteorology. Three satellites under the third generation series, INSAT-3A, INSAT-3B, and INSAT-3C were also launched besides an exclusive meteorological satellite, KALPANA-1. He chaired some of the prestigious international committees, such as, the International Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), Panel for Space Research in Developing countries of COSPAR/ICSU, and the committee meeting at senior official level of UN-ESCAP, that led to the adoption of the “Delhi Declaration” by the Ministers of the region (1999-2000).

Dr B N Suresh is the new Director of VSSC. Dr B N Suresh, Outstanding Scientist at ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, has been appointed as the Director of the Centre and he took over charge on September 20, 2003 from Mr Madhavan Nair. Dr Suresh joined ISRO in July 1969 and is an expert in control and guidance systems. He has made significant contributions to the design and development of all satellite launch vehicles of ISRO – SLV-3, ASLV, PSLV and GSLV.

Original Source: ISRO News Release