Eminent rocket scientist S Somanath has been appointed as the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation as well as the space secretary, a personnel ministry order issued on Wednesday said.
Somanath, who is the present director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, will succeed K Sivan who completes his extended tenure on Friday.
Sivan was in January 2018 appointed as the ISRO chief, secretary of the department of space and chairman space commission.
He was in December 2020 given a one-year extension till January 14, 2022.
Somanath's appointment as the space secretary and the space commission chairman is for a combined tenure of three years from the date of joining of the post, inclusive of an extension in tenure beyond the age of superannuation in public interest, the order said.
The post of the ISRO chairman, the space secretary and the space commission chief is usually held by one person only.
Somanath, who will be the 10th chairman of the premier space organisation, took charge as the VSSC's head on January 22, 2018, after a two and a half years stint as the director of liquid propulsion systems centre, Valiamala, Thiruvananathapuram.
Previously, he served as the associate director (projects) of VSSC and also as the project director of GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle, according to his official biodata.
Under his leadership, the first experimental flight of LVM3-X/CARE mission was successfully accomplished on December 18, 2014, it said.
Speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, Somanath said that the Indian space sector needs to be developed to provide business opportunities for private players and changes are required in the Indian space programme by keeping in mind the needs of future generations.
On his views about the future direction of the space programme/sector of the country, he said that just like private players have entered this field the world over, similar changes are required in India too and that is the "main agenda".
Somanath said presently the Indian space programme is confined to ISRO, but the government now wants new people to come into this sector.
"It can be private players or big industries. We need to develop our space sector as a business opportunity for them and as a part of our economy. This is the target and it is a big responsibility," he said.
For this the space budget should increase from the present Rs 15,000-16,000 crore, which is just a small percentage of the country's economy, to more than Rs 20,000-50,000 crore, he said.
"But the increase in the space budget cannot be by government funding or support alone. Just like the changes which happened in the telecom and air travel sectors, the same should happen here too. With that there can be more job opportunities and an increase in research and development," Somanath said.
However, this would not mean privatisation of ISRO, like BSNL and Air India are being privatised, he clarified.
He said BSNL and Air India were service oriented, while ISRO was also core technology oriented and therefore, it cannot be privatised as it researches and develops technology.
Somanath also said that he does not believe that the Indian space programme or ISRO should move forward as it exists now, without any changes.
He said that changes are required keeping in view the future and the needs of the coming generations.
"We need to align ourselves accordingly, We need to create new legacies," he added.
As news of his appointment spread, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan extended his congratulations to Somanath.
The CM in a Facebook post said it was a proud moment for Kerala since a Malayalee has been elevated to the head of ISRO and wished Somanath all the best.
Somanath did his B Tech in mechanical engineering from TKM college of engineering, Kollam, and masters in aerospace engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, with specialisation in structures, dynamics and control. He was a gold medalist.
Somanath joined VSSC in 1985 and was a team leader for the integration of PSLV during the early phases.
He is an expert in the area of system engineering of launch vehicles, as per his official biodata.