Space drain

300 young scientists fled ISRO in less than 5 years

Published: 24th June 2017 10:35 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th June 2017 08:12 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: India is aiming high in space research, but a high rate of attrition is a stumbling block in its mission mode. Although the consequences are not yet known, five young scientists quitting the country’s premier space agency, India Space Research Organisation (ISRO), per month is certainly a worrying sign.
From sending mission ‘Aditya’ to the sun by 2020, a ‘Chandrayan’ to explore the moon by 2018, and

‘Avatar’, a concept for a manned reusable space plane in 2025, India’s eyes are set in the big future space. Known the world over for innovation at low cost such as the Mars Mission and launching 104 satellites in one go, ISRO seems to be facing a big human resource challenge with nearly 300 scientists leaving it in the last five years, says an RTI reply.

There are 7,062 scientists/engineers at various positions in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It directly recruits young engineers from the Department of Space-run Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) to groom them in space technology.
The data, provided by ISRO to an RTI query by The Sunday Standard, shows that 289 scientists at various levels of service have resigned from 25 institutions spread across the country between 2012 and 2017 (May).

What should really bother the government is that the highest attrition rate among these 25 institutions is reported in the agency’s core branches—Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota; Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram; Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bengaluru; and Space Application Centre, Ahemdabad.         
While the ISRO didn’t mention any reason for the exodus in the RTI reply, former chairman of the agency Madhavan Nair attributed the resignations to the lack of new projects, technical innovation and future vision. A query sought from ISRO on the cause of so many scientists leaving remained unanswered. Space Secretary and ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar’s office stated that he was busy with the launch.

VSSC, Thiruvananthapuram, the lead centre responsible for the design and development of launch vehicles, has seen the highest 79 scientists leaving since 2012. Some have left within one year of joining it. The major programmes at VSSC include  Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle and Rohini Sounding Rockets as well as the development of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk Ill, Reusable Launch Vehicles, advanced technology vehicles, air-breathing propulsion and critical technologies towards human spaceflight.

Bengaluru-based ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), which builds satellites and developing associated satellite technologies, has seen exodus of 62 scientists. About 44 scientists quit the SDSC-SHAR in Sriharikota, the Spaceport of India that is responsible  for providing Launch Base Infrastructure  for the Indian Space Programme.
The Space Applications Centre (SAC) at Ahmedabad, which contributed significantly to scientific and planetary missions of ISRO such as Chandrayaan-1 and Mars Orbiter Mission, has also seen 37 scientists resigning from various positions.

The NDA government has been talking of various schemes for scientists to prevent brain drain but it doesn’t look to be working when it comes to space scientists.
Former ISRO chief Nair explains that main reason being lack of motivation and new technological innovation. “There was a policy analysis done during UPA II about national space programme and future vision but no initiative was taken. There should be new programmes and innovation to retain youngsters but that has not happened.

The ISRO now is in a production phase and innovation has to be brought in to retain and motivate young scientists,” said Nair.   
Nair denies that scientists are leaving for higher salary. According to him, the salaries of scientists in ISRO are 20-30 per cent higher than other government departments in the same grade. “The NDA government under PM Narendra Modi should come up with a Vision 2025 for space scientists that would provide them a vision,” he added.


ISRO has a vision is to harness space technology for national growth. With a budget allocation of `9,093.71 cr this year, it has 25 centres across the country. Top institutes with highest attrition rate are:

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram

ISRO’s lead centre is responsible for design and development of launch vehicle technology. Set up in 1962, it is named after Prof Vikram Sarabhai.

Expertise: PSLV, GSLV and Rohini Sounding Rockets as well as the development of GSLV Mk Ill

Future plans: Reusable launch vehicles, air-breathing propulsion and critical technologies towards human spaceflight

Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad  

Established in 1972, the centre focuses on development of applications in areas to meet the communication, navigation and remote-sensing needs.

Expertise: Development of space-borne and airborne instruments/payloads. Contributed in Mars Orbiter Mission and Chandrayaan-1.

Future plans: Support for second mission to Mars and Venus.

Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota

Founded in 1971, the centre was named in 2002 after scientist Satish Dhawan, considered the father of experimental fluid dynamics research in India

Future plans: A third launch pad or future advance launch vehicles

ISRO Satellite Centre, Bengaluru

Set up in 1972, the centre engages in development of cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure set-up for design, development, fabrication and testing of spacecraft

Expertise: Building satellites and developing associated satellite technologies. Built over 80 satellites

Future plans: The centre pursues advanced technologies for future missions


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