The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Wednesday announced the appointment of senior rocket scientist S Somanath as its next chairman. Somanath will replace the outgoing K Sivan after the latter completes his term, which includes an extension of one year.

Somanath is currently the Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram, and prior to that, he held the post of Director at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), also in Thiruvananthapuram.

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Speaking to TOI after the announcement of his appointment, Somanath highlighted his vision, saying, “The most important responsibility is to create a space centre enterprise in India where all stakeholders including DoS, ISRO, IN-SPACe, industry, and start-ups are all part of efforts to expand the space programme on a bigger scale. This is the primary responsibility.”

“Another objective is to align the overall space programme with the vision the government has put forth where DoS has to really become an enabler to cause the expansion of space enterprise in India. This will be done through appropriate legislation, frameworks, and guidelines that have to be put in place,” the future chief of ISRO further said.

Somanath’s appointment comes at a time when India is looking to expand its space sector by inviting private firms and start-ups to contribute to the development of rockets and satellites, in addition offering services to local and global markets.

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India has also set a lofty goal of sending Indian astronauts to space on indigenously manufactured rockets in 2023 and ISRO will have to hit several checkpoints along the way to pave the way for what would be a historic feat for the space sector in India.

However, Somanath will also have the responsibility of revitalising ISRO, which has been badly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The space research organisation was initially slated to carry out 18-20 missions in 2021, but managed only two.

Somanath will formally take over as ISRO chief on January 14.