On Satish Dhawan’s birth anniversary, his 5 contributions to India’s space tech

Prof. Satish Dhawan, one of the pioneers of India’s space journey, was born in Srinagar on September 25, 1920. The Padma Vibhushan awardee was known for his prowess in various fields. Let us remember the exemplary mathematician and aerospace engineer on his birth anniversary through his selected achievements that led India’s space programme to soaring success.

The father of fluid dynamics research in India

Dhawan completed his PhD from California Institute of Technology in 1951 while serving as an advisor to eminent aerospace scientist Professor Hans W. Liepmann. Then, Dhawan joined the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru as a faculty member and was later appointed its youngest and the longest serving director (for around nine years).

Prof. Dhawan’s pilot project cleared the way for the construction of the world-class wind tunnel facilities at Bengaluru’s National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL).

He put a lot of work into boundary layer research, even when he was in charge of the Indian space program. The ground-breaking book Boundary Layer Theory by Hermann Schlichting summarises his most significant achievements.

At helm of Indian Space programme

On the request of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he took charge of the Indian space programme following the sudden death of Vikram Sarabhai on December 30, 1971. Prof. Dhawan became the Secretary of India’s Department of Space in May 1972. He assumed leadership of both the Space Commission and ISRO, which had just been formally established.

Prof. Satish Dhawan – the true leader

Prof. Dhawan had extraordinary leadership skills, which he implemented while constituting project teams at ISRO. APJ Abdul Kalam, Roddam Narasimha, and UR Rao, among others, were chosen by him to lead projects that resulted in the development of SLV-3, India’s first launch vehicle, and Aryabhata, the nation’s first satellite. He was also in charge of selecting young, talented, and committed individuals for ISRO.

Former president APJ Abdul Kalam recalled an instance from 1979 in which he served as the director of a satellite launch vehicle and the mission to launch the satellite failed. But Dhawan took the full responsibility for it. The team subsequently succeeded and Prof. Dhawan credited the team for the feat.

Pioneer of space missions

Prof. Dhawan carried out trailblazer experiments in rural education, remote sensing and satellite communications. His achievements led to development of INSAT- a telecommunications satellite, IRS – the Indian Remote Sensing satellite and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that placed India in the league of space prospering nations.

He frequently commented on then US President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars programme and was extremely concerned about the militarization of space.

His legacy

Under Prof. Dhawan’s direction, ISRO strove to realise Vikram Sarabhai’s vision of utilising space research to meet India’s developmental requirements. He continued to focus his attention on the issues of public policy in science and technology, particularly space technology, even after retirement.

The Indian satellite launch facility in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, which is roughly 100 km north of Chennai in South India, was renamed the Prof. Satish Dhawan Space Centre after his demise in 2002.