Author Archives: Ritesh R Jaiswal

GSAT-16 : Successfully Launched

sat

India’s communication satellite, GSAT-16, was successfully launched on December 7, 2014 by the European launcher Ariane-5 of Arianespace from French Guiana. Ariane-5 placed GSAT-16 into the intended Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), after a flight of about 32.5 minutes duration. It is the 18th satellite launched by Arianespace for Isro.

ISRO’s Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan in Karnataka started acquiring the signal from the satellite and the commanding of the satellite was initiated. The MCF monitors and handles all national communication satellites throughout their life and is about 200 km from Bengaluru.

PAYLOADS

GSAT-16 is configured to carry a total of 48 communication transponders, the largest number of transponders carried by a communication satellite developed by ISRO so far, 12 in the C band, 12 in the extended C and 24 in the Ku band – cover the entire country and the Andaman & Nicobar islands.

APPLICATION

GSAT-16 will be the 11th among GSAT series of Indian communication satellites. The satellite will boost public and private TV and radio services, large-scale Internet and telephone operations. The satellite is aimed as a replacement for satellite INSAT-3E.

SATELLITE CAPACITY CRUNCH

Currently ISRO have 188 transponders from the INSAT/GSAT fleet. India has leased an additional 95 transponders on foreign satellites mainly for the use of private television broadcasters. Inadequate satellite capacity has been a frequent complaint of private sector users – mainly broadcasters and VSAT operators.

Once GSAT-16 starts working, total number of ISRO’s transponders would increase to 236 and the issue of capacity crunch should somewhat ease. ISRO is confident that India will have about 400 transponders by 2017, despite the previous target of having 500 transponders by 2012 not having been met.

GSLV Mark III – Its First Experimental Flight

GSLV_Mk-III

In the month of December 2014, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III is expected to lift off for the first time from Sriharikota on an experimental flight that will assess the rocket’s performance. It will be the ISRO’s most powerful rocket, capable of putting four-tonne communication satellites into orbit. The forthcoming launch will also provide an early test of a crew module being developed for human space flight.

During the 1990s, it became clear that a new launcher was needed to meet the country’s requirements for heavier communication satellites with large numbers of transponders. Rs. 2,498 crore project for developing the GSLV Mark III was approved by the Government in May 2002

TECHNOLOGY & EXPERIMENTAL FLIGHT

The GSLV Mark III is a three stage launch vehicle. It has two huge solid propellants boosters as first stage, flanking a big liquid propellant core as second stage and a cryogenic upper stage. The GSLV Mark III has just four propulsion modules while its predecessor, the GSLV, has seven, which is crucial for increasing the rocket’s reliability and reducing launch costs.

While the solid booster and the liquid propellant core stage completed ground tests and were qualified for flight about three years back, development of the cryogenic engine for the Mark III’s upper stage is still in progress. For the experimental launch, the Mark III will be equipped with a dummy cryogenic engine and stage that will simulate the weight and other characteristics of the flight version.

The rocket will give the crew module a velocity of 5.3. km/second before it separates at a height of about 125 km. The capsule will then descend and splashdown in the Bay of Bengal, about 600 km from Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The GSLV Mark III is more sensitive than the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the current GSLV to disturbances that might occur as it accelerates through the dense atmosphere. The ability of the rocket’s control systems to effectively handle such perturbations without violating the vehicle’s structural capabilities will be tested during the experimental flight.

According to ISRO, the first developmental flight of the GSLV Mark-III, with a functional cryogenic engine and stage, could take place in two years’ time.

Critically Endangered Forest Owlet in Western Ghats

owl

Researchers have found the critically endangered ‘Forest Owlet’ in the northern part of the Western Ghats around 100 km from Mumbai in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has named this bird as the one facing a high risk of extinction (critically endangered) and the current population has been estimated at less than 250.

Till now, Forest Owlet was known endemic to Satpuda mountain ranges in central India. Its discovery in the Western Ghats has brought new hope about its survival. This clearly highlights the need to conserve crucial avian habitats such as Tansa and other areas which are potential homes of Forest Owlet.

The place where it was located is a dry deciduous forest, with open patches, which is very similar to the typical Forest Owlet habitat in the Satpuda ranges. However, this location is partially degraded due to human disturbances.

Ending Discrimination in Surrogacy laws

surrogacy

Recent meetings on March 6 and 7 of departments and ministries of the Government of India, to discuss and review divergent views on the draft Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2013 (ART Bill), have resulted in a proposal to revise the Bill with significant changes. The most crucial proposal is to restrict surrogacy in India to “infertile Indian married couples” only. Non-resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) would be eligible but foreigners, unless they’re married to Indian citizens, will not. The purpose of this is to prevent exploitation of Indian women who may be tempted to take the risk of surrogacy in the face of financial hardships.

Existing Policy

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), working under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) finalised the National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision and Regulation of ART Clinics in India in 2005 after extensive public debate across the country involving all stake holders. Under these guidelines, there was no legal bar for the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) by a single or an unmarried woman, and the child born would have legal rights on the woman or man concerned.

Thereafter, the draft ART Bills of 2008, 2010 and 2013, stated to be revised based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Law and Justice, have consistently proposed that ART in India would be available to all persons including single persons and foreign couples. The draft Bill 2013, an exhaustive document containing 100 sections addressing various issues relating to ART, is stated to now be ‘Top Secret,’ being a part of the Cabinet note as per the requirement and procedure of the handbook of the Cabinet Secretariat on Cabinet writing notes. The draft Bills and Rules of 2008 and 2010 were extensively circulated for public opinion, besides being sent to State governments, institutions, statutory bodies, NGOs, medical professionals and other stakeholders, but the 2013 Bill was not circulated or placed in the public domain.

The Supreme Court judgment in Baby Manji Yamada vs Union Of India case in 2008 took due notice that in cases of “commercial surrogacy,” an intended parent may be a single male. The Court had the occasion to consider the petition of a Japanese grandmother wanting issuance of a travel document for her Japanese divorced son’s daughter.

In another matter decided by the Gujarat High Court in Jan Balaz vs. Union of India, 2009, the decision of the High Court holding — that babies born in India to gestational surrogates are Indian citizens and are entitled to Indian passports — has been stayed by the Supreme Court. However, the twin German children in the case were permitted to leave India upon the directions of the apex Court. The main issue of nationality and citizenship, being of grave importance, is still undecided.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), according to the guidelines of July 9, 2012, restricted surrogacy to foreign nationals; i.e. a man and a woman married for at least two years would be required to take a medical visa for surrogacy in India. As of now, even though surrogacy is an administrative concern and in the domain of the MoHFW, it has been decided that till the enactment of a law on the ART Bill, 2013, the guidelines issued by the MHA will prevail till then. Hence, foreign single parent surrogacy is barren.

Restricting surrogacy to infertile Indian married couples only, and debarring all foreigners other than OCIs, PIOs and NRI married couples, is a turnaround in the thought process. The suggestion barring foreigners from commissioning surrogacy in India is stated to be subject to there being no conflict with other Indian laws applicable to foreigners, such as those for adoption. The most important contradiction and inconsistency seems to be that arising from the Guidelines Governing the Adoption of Children, 2011, for inter-country adoptions, which now have statutory sanction by virtue of them having being enacted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The Juvenile Justice Act clearly provides that a court may allow a child to be given in adoption to an individual, irrespective of his or her marital status.

Moreover, the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 and The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 permit a guardian to be declared or appointed where the Court is satisfied that it is for the welfare of a minor. Barring single parents to adopt is not statutory but can be a restraint in a particular case upon examination by a competent court. Therefore, debarring single persons and foreign nationals from being parents will amount to rewriting laws in existence which have been enacted by Parliament.

Recent Decisions

The Supreme Court in Stephanie Joan Becker vs State in 2013 permitted a single 53-year-old lady to adopt a female orphan child aged 10 by relaxing the rigour of the guidelines of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). It said the proposed adoption would be beneficial to the child as experts were of the view that the adoption process would end in successful blending of the child in the U.S. Likewise, in Shabnam Hashmi vs. Union of India, 2014, the Court upheld the recognition of the right to adopt and to be adopted as a fundamental right. It held that every person, irrespective of the religion he/she professes, is entitled to adopt. The latest verdict of the Supreme Court recognising transgenders as the third gender says “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution.” Clearly, legal recognition means that they would be entitled to rights of adoption, succession, inheritance and other privileges under law.

The sum and substance is not to shut the door to surrogacy which is an accepted societal practice in India and grown slowly over almost two decades. Medical technology, advancement of science permitting free export of frozen embryos and other scientific methods have offered hopes to childless people. The more pragmatic approach would be to make a law hedged with safeguards, checks and balances. The appropriate and desirable method would be to create a mechanism to judge the suitability of proposed surrogate parents rather than to debar all single and foreign persons. This would also avoid any conflict with existing laws of adoption wherein foreign persons including single parents are allowed to adopt through a strict and rigorous mechanism provided by CARA.

Simply trying to shut out surrogacy for foreign nationals and single persons may not be the ideal way to stamp out the hopes of persons wishing to be a parent. Whether Indians or foreign nationals, law treats persons as individual parents when required. A restrictive meaning to the word “person” cannot qualify or change the definition by restricting it to an Indian national. The celebrated view of the apex court in widening the horizons to prevent discrimination on grounds of sex or gender identity is a new thought process based on international covenants of human rights. We cannot permit our thinking to be retrograde simply because of the problems accompanying surrogacy. Administrators cannot usurp law making functions to be a law unto themselves.

Published in The Hindu, May 3, 2014; by Anil Malhotra

Two new Sub-atomic Particles discovered

atom

Experiments at the world’s biggest particle smasher (the European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN) have confirmed the existence of two new subatomic particles. The discoveries, known as Xi_b’- and Xi_b*-, are part of the baryon family of particles.

Baryons are composite particles comprising three quarks bound together by strong force. Protons and neutrons are types of baryons. Xi_b’- and Xi_b*- had been predicted in theories, but it took experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva to find them.

WHAT ARE SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES?

Scientists believed that the smallest part of matter was the atom; the indivisible, indestructible, fundamental unit of every things. But soon it was proved that atoms are composed of even smaller ‘Subatomic Particles’.

Subatomic particles are particles that are smaller than an atom. Protons, neutrons, electrons, neutrinos, and positrons are the five most important sub-atomic particles. The first three particles were known to be the building blocks of atoms. Neutrinos and positrons were discovered outside Earth’s atmosphere and of uncertain origin or significance.

TYPES OF SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES

There are two categories of subatomic particles, Elementary Particles and Composite Particles. Elementary particles are not made up of other particles, they are absolute and discreet units, such as electrons, whereas the composite particles are made up of two or more elementary particles, such as protons and atom nuclei.

ELEMENTARY SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES

There are twelve elementary subatomic particles divided into two categories, known as Leptons and Quarks. There are six different kinds, or “flavors”, of quarks. These include up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom quark, each of which possesses variable charge & variable masses.

There are also six different types of Leptons, which include Electrons, Muons, Taus, Electron Neutrinos, Muon Neutrinos, and Tau Neutrinos. Whereas electrons and Muons both have a negative charge of -1 (Muons having greater mass), Neutrinos have no charge and are extremely difficult to detect.

COMPOSITE SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES

Composite particles are bound states of two or more elementary particles. For example, a proton is made of two Up quarks and one Down quark, while the atomic nucleus of helium (or alpha) is composed of two protons and two neutrons.

ADDITIONAL SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES – THE FORCE CARRIERS

In addition, there are also the subatomic particles that fall under the heading of Gauge Bosons. These are classified as “force carriers”, i.e. particles that act as carriers for the fundamental forces of nature. These include photons that are associated with electromagnetism, gravitons that are associated with gravity, the bosons of weak nuclear forces, and the eight gluons of strong nuclear forces.

Scientists also predict the existence of several more, what they refer to as “hypothetical” particles, so the list is expected to grow. Today, there are literally hundreds of known subatomic particles, most of which were either the result of cosmic rays interacting with matter or particle accelerator experiments.

CERN’S LARGE HADRON COLLIDER (LHC)

The LHC shot to global fame in 2012 when it unearthed the Higgs boson, the particle that is believed to confer mass. It was a major piece in the ‘Standard Model’ of physics, a theory that describes the basic particles of matter, how they interact and the forces between them. The facility is going through an upgrade to operate at higher energies from early 2015.

Rosetta – Philae : First ever Landing on Comet

Rosetta

Rosetta is a robotic space probe built and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) which is performing a detailed study of comet 67P. Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket and reached the comet on 6 August 2014, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. On 12 November 2014, Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on the camet. It is part of the ESA Horizon 2000 cornerstone missions.

THE SPACECRAFT 

The spacecraft consists of two main elements: the Rosetta space probe orbiter and the Philae robotic lander. The Rosetta mission will orbit 67P for 17 months and is designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. The mission is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Germany.

NAME & ANALOGY 

The probe is named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring a decree in three scripts. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk bearing a bilingual Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription. A comparison of its hieroglyphs with those on the Rosetta Stone catalysed the deciphering of the Egyptian writing system. Similarly, it is hoped that these spacecraft will result in better understanding of comets and the early Solar System. In a more direct analogy to its namesake, the Rosetta spacecraft also carries a micro-etched nickel alloy Rosetta disc donated inscribed with 13,000 pages of text in 1200 languages.

FIRST EVER LANDING ON COMET 

On 12 November 2014, ESA’s Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on comet 67P, the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved. During the next phase of the mission, Rosetta will accompany the comet through perihelion (August 2015) until the end of the mission. On its 10 year journey towards comet 67P, the spacecraft has passed by two asteroids: 2867 Steins (in 2008) and 21 Lutetia (in 2010).

SNIFFING ORGANIC MOLECULES ON COMET 

Scientists confirmed that the European comet lander Philae had ‘sniffed’ organic molecules on 67P containing carbon elements by its Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) gas analysing instrument. The lander also drilled into the comet’s surface in its hunt for organic molecules, although it is unclear as yet whether Philae managed to deliver a sample to COSAC for analysis.

ABOUT EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY 

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space. ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

SC orders status quo on INS Vikrant

ins vikrant old

The Supreme Court ordered maintenance of status quo on India’s first aircraft carrier ‘INS Vikrant’ which is on the verge of being converted into scrap. The ship was due at the scrap yard on May 17 after it was sold for Rs.60 crore through an e-auction to the Mumbai-based IB Commercials Pvt Ltd.

A bench comprising justices K S Radhakrishnan and Vikramjit Sen issued notices to Ministry of Defence and other authorities concerned on the petition challenging the Bombay High Court decision rejecting the plea to preserve ‘INS Vikrant’ by converting it into a maritime museum.

Through the ‘Save Vikrant Committee’, Mr. Paigankar and other activists last month moved the apex court in a bid to save the vessel which saw action in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The imposing vessel, commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1961, was decommissioned in 1997 and has been kept anchored at the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai.

The 70-year-old vessel, purchased as HMS Hercules from Britain in 1957 and rechristened as ‘INS Vikrant’, helped enforce a naval blockade of East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — during the 1971 war.

Bacteria Killing Fabric

fabric

An antibacterial fabric with an ability to kill off two of the most infectious and lethal pathogens, E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus has been developed by researchers in Australia. Both the pathogens were shown to die off within 10 minutes of contact with this newly created fabric, which utilises the antibacterial properties of silver.

The study was conducted by the Australia based university RMIT in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and a paper on the new material was recently published in the prestigious journal Advanced Functional Materials.

It has been known for the last hundred years that silver is anti-bacterial. Silver metal, when it comes into contact with body fluids, releases silver ions and these ions are actually toxic and have anti-microbial and antibacterial properties. Instead of using silver metals, they developed a new material called Silver-TCNQ nano-structure (Silver-tetra-cyano-quinodimethane) which releases these silver ions quite slowly so the antibacterial effect is long term. Ordinary fabric is dipped into a special solution to give it the desired antibacterial properties.

Potential applications of this fabric include band-aids and wound dressings, surgical gowns and bed sheets as means to reduce hospital-acquired infections.

Astra successfully test-fired

Astra BVR

India on May 4, 2014 successfully test-fired its first indigenously developed beyond visual range (BVR) Astra missile from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet, joining a select group of countries such as the US, France, Russia and Israel that developed this capability. The term beyond-visual-range missile (BVR) usually refers to an air-to-air missile that is capable of engaging at ranges of 20 nmi (37 km) or beyond.

Astra has been designed and developed indigenously by the DRDO. The 60-km plus range missile possesses high Single Shot Kill Probability (SSKP) making it highly reliable. Astra’s project director, S. Venugopal said the missile was comparable with the best in the world. He said the Mk-II variant of Astra with a range of 100 km is planned to be tested by this year end.

In its maiden flight test, Astra was not fired against any target, which would be tested subsequently. It can arm all four of India’s current generation fighters – the Su-30MKI, MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.

Astra is an all-weather missile with active radar terminal guidance, excellent ECM (electronic counter-measure) features, rocket/ramjet propulsion and improved effectiveness in a multi-target scenario making it a highly advanced, state-of the-art missile capable of destroying highly-agile supersonic fighters.

At 15 km from the target, the Astra’s on-board seeker picks up the target and homes in on it. Reaching near the target, a radio proximity fuse detonates the Astra warhead metres from the target, shooting it down. However the key component of the Astra missile – the seeker head – remain imported. A seeker is being developed, but will take a decade to be usable.

The project was first sanctioned in March 2004 at an initial cost of Rs 955 crore. After decade long of development saga, DRDO is now confident it will be able to meet the revised project completion date of December 2016.

GSLV Mark III ready for mission

GSLV-MK_III

India took the first step on Friday, 28th March 2014 towards the experimental mission of its gigantic GSLV-Mk III (Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III) when the rocket’s core stage, weighing more than 110 tonnes, was flagged off from the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu, to Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

The GSLV-Mk III in this flight will carry a crew capsule without astronauts. The rocket will reach an altitude of less than 100 km. The capsule will return to earth with the help of parachutes. Its upper cryogenic stage will not fire. Instead of cryogenic propellants, the cryogenic stage would carry liquid nitrogen, which would be inert. The mission will take place in June or first week of July.

GSLV-Mk III is powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine. It can put a communication satellite weighing four tonnes into geo-synchronous transfer orbit or a 10-tonne satellite into low-earth orbit.  It will also serve as vehicle to carry astronauts to space after initial experiments.

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