Winner of several awards
Lalithambika V.R., deputy director at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, has a distinguished background. A Masters Degree in control engineering, she joined VSSC, Thiruvananthapuram in 1988 and now heads control, guidance and simulation entity at the institution.
Her list of awards is impressive. Among the many honours she has bagged are the Space Gold Medal 2001, (Astronautical society of India for excellence in launch vehicle technology), Isro individual merit award, 2010 and Isro performance excellence award, 2013.
Her group works on optimising fuel for all rockets (PSLV, GSLV, even the single flight of Reusable Launch Vehicle or RLV), the autopilot of rockets, development of software for onboard computers of all rockets and the hardware which holds the computer, as well as reviews the design of rockets. The recent launch of 104 satellites — which has won great international acclaim bringing accolades for the country — during a single flight of PSLV, was her team’s most challenging mission as an end-to-end test of all systems.
It was carried out to ensure that the satellites are placed in the right orbit without colliding against each other. No easy task that. The launch and flight of PSLV for this critical mission was simulated on the computer several times, including for rough weather conditions, to ensure that the mission was accomplished without a glitch. And that is the way it worked out.
“It is extremely satisfying to work in this organisation because even juniors are allowed to voice their ideas and concerns and every mission is achieved through team work so that nobody’s ego comes in the way. We have set an example for all organisations, private or government, that team work matters most to achieve the most challenging goal,” she points out. Lalithambika has now discovered that most young people want to join Isro, to become proud members of teams working on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
There are other names too, which have cropped up in recent years. Pramodha Hegde and Anuradha Prakasham, who worked with Anuradha TK on the launch of the GSAT 12 and N. Valarmathi, who led the launch of Risat I.
Sadly, organisations like the Department of Atomic Energy (DEA) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have long clouded the achievements of ISRO. That, happily, appears to be changing.