Narayanan introduced the liquid fuel rocket technology in India in the early 1970s, when the team of his Isro associate A P J Abdul Kalam, who later became the President of India, was working on solid motors. He foresaw the need for liquid-fuelled engines for future civilian space programmes and received encouragement from the then Isro chairman Satish Dhawan and his successor U R Rao.
The 78-year-old scientist was one of the chief architects of the ‘Vikas’ engine that is at the heart of India’s space rockets. He worked for nearly two decades with French assistance to develop the engine, which later propelled rockets used in interplanetary missions like Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan (Mars mission). The Vikas engine is used in the second stage of PSLV and as the second and four strap-on stages of GSLV rocket.
In 1994, Kerala police had accused Narayanan of selling state secrets comprising confidential test data from rocket and satellite launches. He was arrested in December the same year and charged with espionage. He was tortured too.
After living a life of harassment and mental agony for years, the Supreme Court in 1998 finally cleared the scientist of all spying charges. Last year, the apex court awarded Narayanan a compensation of 50 lakh and asked the Kerala government to pay the amount. The Supreme Court also erased all adverse records against him to restore his reputation.
The apex court also constituted a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge D K Jain to inquire into the role of officials of Kerala police in the arrest of Narayanan.