E&T

View from India: A year of progress on many fronts

As the year comes to an end, it’s a good time time to look back. India continues on its path towards moulding a digital economy. There’s also a thrust on sustainability and lowering carbon footprint as issues related to climate change pose a challenge. Plastic repurposing and public transport taking the green route could be initiatives to save Planet Earth.

Matters of Space

Aerospace manufacturing is soaring high as the India’s defence exports were estimated at 13,000 crore rupees (INR130bn, £1.3bn) in fiscal 2021-2022. The figures are impressive. A lot can be attributed to India’s BrahMos deal with the Philippines. As per this deal, India will export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines. Over the last five years, the biggest beneficiary of India’s defence exports has been Myanmar. What is also impressive is that the private sector has contributed towards aerospace manufacturing, taking stride in the manned and unmanned aircraft categories. Fuselage and other parts of the aero engine are being manufactured in India for the world.  

Since the last two years, the pandemic had caused a lull in the missions executed by the Indian Space Research Organisation. ISRO, the primary space agency of the Indian government, is now preparing to launch new missions with full gusto. For instance, it is preparing for its Venus venture to study Venusian atmosphere. Going by its characteristics, Venus is toxic and corrosive in nature as it is covered with clouds of sulfuric acid. Shukrayaan-1, ISRO’s planned orbiter to Venus, is scheduled to launch in December 2024. The orbiter is expected to shed light on the weather and storms on Venus by studying its components, atmosphere and solar wind interaction with its ionosphere.

ISRO’s other launches are likely to happen in 2023. Of these Gaganyaan, India’s first manned mission to space, seems to be much awaited. Ahead of the manned trip, two unmanned missions may be launched to test the technology, safety and reliability of system. This will then be followed by a manned space journey. Indian industrial, academic and national agencies are part of the mission. Chandrayaan-3 is ISRO’s third lunar exploration mission to be launched next year. This a follow-up to the Chandrayaan-2 of 2019.

Naturally the government has planned to increase the number of Space R&D hubs to support ISRO’s research activities. The country is preparing the next generation of space students. The Kalpana Chawla Centre for Research in Space Science and Technology was inaugurated at Chandigarh University during the year. The intent is to build skilled-trained astrophysicists to strengthen India’s position in space technology. Global collaborations are also on. ISRO and Nasa have teamed up for Nasa-Isro Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR), a satellite mission towards scientific studies of the Earth, along with Earth’s changing ecosystems and ice masses. 

Private space travel is expected to take off, as space tech start-ups have made a beginning with their offerings. Vikram-S is the country's first privately developed rocket from start-up Skyroot Aerospace. Vikram-S has marked an entry of the private sector into space by placing three satellites into orbit. The rocket is a tribute to Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, hailed as the father of the Indian Space Programme. Launched by ISRO, the suborbital flight mission has been named Prarambh, which translates as beginning. Then space tech start-up Agnikul Cosmos has come up with a privately designed and operated rocket launchpad and mission control centre. Located at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, the facility has been designed by Agnikul and executed in support with ISRO and IN-SPACe (Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre). Let’s hope more such start-ups pursue space activities.  

In another first this year, an all-women aircrew of five Indian Navy officers completed an independent operational maritime reconnaissance and surveillance mission in the North Arabian Sea, following months of extensive ground training and comprehensive briefings. The “historic” mission flew from frontline INAS 314 air squadron in Porbandar was captained by Lt Commander Aanchal Sharma, with the other members being pilots Lt Shivangi and Lt Apurva Gite, and tactical and sensor officers, Lt Pooja Panda and Sub Lt Pooja Shekhawat.

Speedy and Racy

Speed, and at a pace unheard of before, forms the crux of the railways. Trains are being designed to fulfill this. The commute time between cities is reducing. And why not? The time taken for go-to-market with products has shrunk, so there’s no surprise that engineering, science and technology are on track to make railway travel a different experience. A case in point is the Vande Bharat Express launched in 2019. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that during the 75-week celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Indian Independence, 75 Vande Bharat trains will connect every corner of the country.

Manufactured by the Integrated Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, the new Vande Bharat (VB) trains will be tested at a speed of 180km/h (112mph). The testing includes dynamic, static, load test and oscillation trials to be executed in different situations. The trains will be equipped with emergency lighting, GPS-based audio-visual passenger information system, on-board hotspot Wi-Fi for entertainment purposes and comfortable seating. The executive class also has rotating chairs. The doors have been designed to open automatically and the train has an anti-collision Kavach technology, which automatically draws a locomotive to stop when it senses an obstruction on the track. Probably these features could make the Vande Bharat Express world-class.

The South Western Railway (SWR) has commenced commercial operations at the Sir M. Visvesvaraya Terminal at Baiyappanahalli (SMVB) Bengaluru. Modelled after the Kempegowda International Airport, SMVB is the country’s first rail terminal with centralised air conditioning. A first-class waiting room and a VIP lounge fortified with digital real-time passenger information are its hallmarks. Posters with QR codes help passengers access sign language videos about the terminal’s layout. It also has multiple charging points at every level, along with food courts, ramps, stairways, foot over-bridge and ticket counters including one for the differently-abled. Hopefully SMVB will help decongest other stations in the city such as the Yeshwanthpur and Cantonment stations. The Railway Terminal is named after Sir M Visvesvaraya, who is a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, which is the highest civilian honour. He was bestowed as Knight Commander by King George V during the British Indian Empire. Sir M Visvesvaraya was a far sighted engineer who designed-patented automatic weir water floodgates installed at reservoirs and dams, thereby contributing towards the country’s development.

Coming to road transport, electric vehicles (EV) could be the journey towards planet sustainability. Public transport and logistics are taking the green route. The government has announced its decision to shift public transport and logistics to 100 per cent clean energy sources.

LNG or liquid natural gas can be an economically viable fuel option for trucks and buses. LNG generates less carbon dioxide than fuel oil. By its very nature, the process and the technology involved in deriving renewable energy is labour-intensive. It can become a platform for generating employment.

Other than E-buses and logistics carriers, the two-three-four wheelers are the means of livelihood and connectivity for households. Mobility is a fundamental need. So when we look at these vehicles, what comes to mind is whether the current products are EV agnostic to keep pace with the EV system? It’s not enough to just decarbonise electric vehicles. It will work only if all the components that result in emission are decarbonised. End-to-end solutions may help in complete decarbonisation. Renewable energy can be used to charge vehicles.

When the EV battery pack is conceptualised, the design should include the second and third life of the battery. These aspects could contribute towards building a circular economy. In sync with planet sustainability, alternative forms of fuel such as green hydrogen are being developed. To make green hydrogen a mainstream choice and make them an attractive proposition for investors could be a future move. Hence, encouraging policies could help in the fast adoption of these vehicles for the betterment of the planet, as clean air is good for the country and improves the health of citizens.  

Perils of Plastic  

Achieving plastic neutrality is challenging. Perhaps plastic waste management could be integrated on a large scale. Though there are companies and individuals doing their bit, a lot more could be done to make it a mainstream exercise. This could become a circular economic income-generating activity. Recycling targets could be set, with waste generators garnering brownie points.

It also calls for some sensitivity and out-of-box thinking to arrive at plastic alternatives. Of course, plastic can be recycled and repurposed commercially, and that’s an industry by itself. By doing so, it could lead to circular economy solutions. Even so, single-use plastic (SUP) can still end up in landfills or oceans. So then ecofriendly alternatives may be a solution to plastics and this may be a worthwhile pursuit for entrepreneurs. For instance, plastic lunch boxes and cups could be made with natural material instead. Natural fibre bags have caught the attention of NGOs and are taking the place of plastic bags. Wherever possible wood and bamboo can be used in place of plastic, whether it is in the form of stationery or even kitchen equipment.

Climate change can happen anywhere and it may be tackled through joint efforts across geographies. India’s Arctic Policy may be one such move. It could be understood as a platform to explore scientific possibilities for climate and environmental protection. Research will be conducted on mineral wealth and maritime, besides whetting opportunities in economic cooperation with the Arctic region.

Himalayas is identified as the Water Tower of Asia or Third Pole, with the first and second Pole being North and South Pole respectively. Global warming causes climate change. To think of it, the Arctic and Himalayas could have common challenges related to melting glaciers. The outcome may be in the form of irregular water flows, wind disruptions and catastrophes. We can comprehend these things today. But efforts began a century ago. Way back in 1920 the country signed ‘Svalbard Treaty’ in Paris, and since then, has conducted studies on Arctic oceanography. All this may be a move towards India’s pledge of achieving its net zero goal.

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