On its 80th birthday, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research casts its gaze towards the sky as its plans to make pseudo-satellites or very high altitude UAVs that can do a variety of things at a fraction of cost than conventional satellite. Bengaluru-based National Aerospace Laboratories, one of the 37 constituent laboratories of CSIR, will manufacture the prototypes of such a high altitude UAV that has never been realised.
Once made, such UAVs, flying at an altitude of 20,000 mt, will carry all sorts of sensors for imaging. They are not as costly as a satellite, but can do many tasks that a satellite does,” Shekhar C Mande, CSIR director general, told DH. Such high altitude platforms have been advocated for nearly a decade, but never made due to lack of clarity and many unknowns in cost and performance analyses. There are also unresolved technical and procedural challenges in the areas of certifications, reliability, and flight in controlled airspace. With a basic design in hand, NAL that played a key role in making several indigenous aircraft, has undertaken a technology demonstration project comprising detailed design and engineering development of the high altitude platforms, leading to the manufacturing of two prototypes.
The high altitude platform is one of the futuristic projects of the 80-year-old CSIR that gave India products as diverse as the country’s first tractor (Swaraj) and indelible ink used during elections to a home-grown CRISPR-based Covid-19 detection kit (FELUDA), which was also developed by two of the world’s best laboratories – Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley.
The CSIR was formed on September 26, 1942 through a Department of Commerce Resolution of the British government succeeding the Board of Scientific and Industrial Research created in 1940.
While its initial budget was Rs 10 lakh, the council received a grant of Rs one crore two years later to establish its first five laboratories – National Metallurgical Laboratory at Jamshedpur, National Physical Laboratory in Delhi, National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, Central Glass and Ceramics Research Institute in Kolkata and Central Fuel Research Institute at Dhanbad. One fifth of that grant came from the Tata group.
As the council starts working on other futuristic projects on green hydrogen, carbon capture and coal gasification, a conscious effort is being made to resolve a long-pending problem – timely distribution of the fellowships for the junior and senior research fellows in the laboratories. Not receiving the fellowship money in time is an issue repeatedly flagged by young scientists to the CSIR top brass. “We handle nearly 8,000 fellowships per month, of which 70-80 percent get the payment in time. It is the problem of the remaining 20-30 per cent people that weare trying to resolve,” Mande said