From liquid oxygen to O2 concentrators, here’s how ISRO is aiding India’s COVID-19 battle

Chennai, Tamil NaduWritten By: Sidharth MPUpdated: May 13, 2021, 07:05 PM IST

Former ISRO chairman K Sivan said the second spaceport has been a project that both the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu government have keenly been working on. Photograph:(PTI)

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The Indian Government-run space agency has been providing liquid oxygen to state governments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh from their manufacturing facilities or from existing stock

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is actively repurposing existing resources, scaling up production capacity of their facilities and also transferring technology to aid the country’s fight against the severe second wave of COVID-19. In an exclusive conversation with Zee Media, Dr. K. Sivan, Chairman, ISRO elaborated on how the premier space agency’s facilities across the country have been contributing to India's fight against Covid.

According to Dr. K. Sivan, ISRO is no exception to the prevalent Covid situation across the country and their staff across facilities are infected, thus affecting the pace of their activities. However, he says that the organisation is doing the best possible amid the crisis and helping in every possible manner. 

The Indian Government-run space agency has been providing liquid oxygen to state governments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh from their manufacturing facilities or from existing stock. It is important to note that liquid oxygen, known as (Lox) in the aerospace and science parlance, is a crucial resource for any modern space agency, as it is used as an oxidiser in cryogenic engines that power large rockets.

ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu, which is responsible for the production of cryogenic fuels has been supplying liquid oxygen to the state governments in Tamil Nadu and adjoining Kerala. 

“IPRC has supplied over 150 tonnes of Lox to Kerala and Tamil Nadu Governments since 24th April and continues to do so. Our daily production capacity is 2.5 tonnes, but we have progressively scaled up to 11 tonnes per day by working round-the-clock with more staff. Around 20 tonnes of Lox stored at our spaceport in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh has also been provided to the state government” Dr. Sivan said. 

Cryogenic fuels, as the name suggests, have to be stored at very low temperatures. As far as ISRO’s rockets are concerned their cryogenic engines are fuelled by liquid hydrogen, where oxygen serves as an oxidiser. Globally, Kerosene, methane are also used as rocket fuels, along with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. ISRO has already developed ISROsene (rocket grade Kerosene) to power its future semi-cryogenic engines and their teams are working on using methane to power rockets. 

ISRO has also provided the large capacity fuel tanks at their facilities to be repurposed and used as stores of liquid oxygen in various states. These tanks serve as a hub for mass storage of liquid oxygen, following which they can be distributed to the healthcare facilities in the region. 

“Our Space Applications Center in Ahmedabad has nitrogen storage tanks with a capacity of 40,000 litres and 1 lakh litres, they were made suitable for storing Oxygen and the Gujarat government has been utilising them. Similarly, at the UR Rao Satellite Center in Bengaluru, we are ready to convert our large storage tanks for Lox storage. The Lox supplies we had in Chandigarh also have been provided to the government” Dr. Sivan added. 

The pandemic has impacted ISRO’s mission schedule for 2021 and subsequent projects, with a good number staff (as possible, based on roles) working from home, as per government guidelines and lockdowns at the state level. Despite the pandemic-induced challenges faced by the agency, they are also working on transferring technology of oxygen Concentrators and ventilators developed in-house, to Indian industry for mass manufacture, which will help serve the nation’s needs. 

Earlier this year in its maiden launch, in February, ISRO had launched a Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1 on a commercial arrangement. ISRO is expected to launch GISAT-1 an advanced Earth Observation satellite in the coming months, whereas the first unmanned trial of the ambitious Gaganyaan (human spaceflight) mission has been originally scheduled for the end of the year. India’s third moon mission Chandrayaan-3 had also been originally slated for launch by mid-2022.