ISRO is embarking on a mission of a different kind by taking the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) to a much higher, futuristic research orbit. The Bengaluru-headquartered space agency is striking a partnership with the IIST ‒ something similar to the JPL- Caltech model in the United States. JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) is federally funded by US space agency NASA and managed by Caltech (California Institute of Technology). A dedicated framework has now been put into place to coordinate joint research activities between ISRO centres and IIST, akin to the Caltech-JPL model, with a capacity building programme office (CBPO) located at ISRO headquarters here as a focal point.

An advanced space research group has been created to identify application-oriented research projects of importance to ISRO centres and match the IIST faculty’s interests.

An empowered overseeing committee has been constituted to review and approve the proposals.

CBPO director P V Venkitakrishnan told PTI that “very advanced, totally new and futuristic projects” ‒ nothing that ISRO has done ‒ would be taken up under the initiative.

“28-30 projects have been identified”, he said.

It’s a mix of two years, three-five years, and seven-year projects that would be pursued by IIST faculty.

ACCORDING TO HIM, Thiruvananthapuram-based IIST, an autonomous institution under the department of space and a ‘deemed to be university, ‘ is similar to Caltech.

Asked about the time-frame by which he expects the partnership to reach the JPL-Caltech level, Venkitakrishnan said: “We are expecting within eight to ten years. That is our ambition, our aim”.

It was noted that NASA’s JPL, founded by Caltech faculty, is the leading centre for the solar system’s robotic exploration.

It also conducts earth-orbit and astronomy missions.

JPL’s workforce includes a diverse population of scientists, engineers, technologists, developers, communicators, designers, safety experts and business administrators.

Venkitakrishnan said that through the post-doctoral fellowship programme offered by IIST, ISRO wants to attract space research talent.

He also said that the Union government had been requested to accord ‘Institute of National Importance’ status to IIST.

Once approved, various ISRO centres would become constituent learning centres, allowing IIST to have a wider off-campus, he said.

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