Rocket scientist S Somanath has been appointed as the 10th chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Space Secretary, according to a Personnel Ministry order issued on Wednesday, PTI reported.

His tenure will be of three years and can be extended in the public interest.

Somanath is currently the director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. He will succeed K Sivan who will complete his extended tenure on Friday.

Somanath has played a key role in developing the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III, or GSLV Mk III. He joined the project in 2003 and served as its director between 2010 and 2014.

The GSLV Mk III was used to launch Chandrayaan-2, India’s second moon mission, in September 2019. The space organisation, however, lost contact with the lunar lander Vikram. Efforts to establish contact with Chandrayaan-2 for 14 days had failed.

“Somanath is an expert in the area of system engineering of launch vehicles,” according to ISRO, The Hindu reported on Wednesday. “His contributions in PSLV and GSLV MkIII were in their overall architecture, propulsion stages design, structural and structural dynamics designs, separation systems, vehicle integration and integration procedures development.”

Somanath told the newspaper that as the new chairperson, he will guide the private companies and start-ups so that they can play a key role in developing the space sector.

“We have to hold their hand and support them to come up,” he said. “The idea is that the space ecosystem should become more vibrant, economically viable and self-sustaining.”

The scientist added that India’s Rs 16,000-crore space economy should grow to Rs 60,000-crore.