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BW Businessworld

The Sky Is The Limit

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India has developed the capability to build world-class satellites and launch vehicle systems. Two operational space systems namely the Indian National Satellite system, with 10 satellites in orbit and the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) system with a constellation of seven satellites constitute India’s key space infrastructure. Providing India’s autonomous space launch capability are the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), capable of launching 1,600-kg satellites into polar orbits suitable for remote sensing and the Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which has incorporated a cryogenic rocket, and can launch communication satellites of weight class up to about 2,200 kg. Additionally, India has embarked on an ambitious planetary exploration programme Chandrayaan-1 scheduled for launch this year using an improved version of India’s PSLV.
The overall investment in Indian space endeavours is considered to be cost effective in comparison with experience elsewhere. For example, the development cost of both PSLV and GSLV launch vehicles is equivalent to about $1.4 billion. While exact comparisons are difficult, the European Space Agency’s expenditure on Ariane 1-4 programme was about $5 billion.

Commercial space activities in India received a fillip through the establishment of Antrix Corporation as a private limited company in 1992. Antrix markets the imageries from IRS satellites to users through a network of 20 international ground stations spread across the globe. It has also established an alliance with the European satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium to jointly manufacture and market commercial communication satellites. Two sophisticated commercial communication satellites are being built and assembled in Bangalore, incorporating the payloads from Astrium and the satellite platforms developed by ISRO. With growing demands for satellite capacity for new sectors such as mobile multimedia and disaster management support, the growth prospects of commercial space activities in India look promising.

India has ambitious plans for its space programme. Satellite communications will focus on doubling the transponder capacity of INSAT system. And the pre-eminent position achieved in remote sensing satellites will be further advanced through operational all-weather sensing capability from space, and revamping delivery mechanisms for data, establishment of satellite navigation system for position, navigation and timing services.
The basic thrust in launch vehicles systems in the near term is to complete development of GSLV-Mark III, which will be capable of launching heavy communication satellites weighing up to 4 tonne. The policies will aim at developing modular launch systems, new propulsion stages such as semi-cryogenic stage, and new technology developments in areas such as Reusable Launch Vehicle and manned space flight systems. Later, planetary exploration will continue through a follow-on mission to the moon and a lunar observatory, Mars orbiter, Asteroid orbiter and comet fly by.
India should address private-sector participation not only in the provision of downstream services, but also in owning and operating satellite systems. This would need a consortia of industries to come together to produce state-of-the-art, cost-effective satellites, manufacture launch vehicle and provide launch services.
An increase in bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation will also boost India’s space programme. It could have an increased role in manned space missions, creation of space habitats, lunar bases and planetary exploration. With a spectrum of achievements to its credit, India is well positioned to exploit the further potential of space technology.

The author is Chairman of Indian Space
Research Organisation
(Businessworld Issue 19-25 Aug 2008)