View from India: Union Cabinet allocates Rs 10,911 crore for space programmes

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given an approval for the launch of 30 Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and 10 Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III rockets + in the next four years. The financial allocation for the programme is to the tune of Rs 10,911 crore.

Both PSLV and GSLV are the satellite vehicles that have been launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the primary space agency of the Indian government.

The prime objective of ISRO is to develop space technology and its application to meet the various needs at a national level. Clearly, this announcement is a proud moment for ISRO and, as stated in multiple media reports, ISRO chairman K. Sivan has said that the Cabinet approval for the PSLV and GSLV rocket launches will give a big boost to space programmes.

He suggested that the increase in satellite launches in the areas such as communication, earth observation and navigation is not only significant for the space agency, but is also hoped to benefit the common man.

Going by the announcement made on June 6 2018, the Union Cabinet has also approved funding for the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) continuation programme (Phase-I) consisting of 10 GSLV (Mk-III) flights, at a total estimated cost of Rs 4338.20 crore. This includes Rs 4338.20 crore and takes into account the cost of 10 GSLV Mk-III vehicles that are essential for facility augmentation, programme management and the launch campaign.

The GSLV Mk-III continuation Programme – Phase 1 is the first phase of operational flights that will enable the launch of 4-tonne class of communication satellites to meet the country’s satellite communication requirements.

The operationalisation of GSLV Mk-III will make the country self-reliant by launching the 4-tonne class of communication satellites. This is also estimated to sustain and strengthen the space infrastructure, thereby reduce the dependence on procured launches from foreign countries.

To put things in perspective, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) has been developed towards achieving the indigenous launch capability to launch 4 tonne class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). It has completed one experimental flight (LVM3-X) in 2014 and one developmental flight (GSLV MkIII-D1) in 2017.

Further, the GSLV Mk-III Continuation Programme – Phase 1 will meet the launch requirement of communication satellites to meet the national demand for high throughput satellites for rural broadband connectivity, increase and sustain the availability of transponders for television broadcasters, DTH television (direct-to-home television which is a method of receiving satellite television by means of signals transmitted from direct-broadcast satellites) VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal, which is a satellite communication system that serves home and business users).

The Cabinet approval is in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India’. With the approval for the PSLV and GSLV rocket launches, the private sector should open up to funding space missions, apart from public-private partnerships.

Even basic research in space science should be thrown open to small organisations in order to create an ecosystem that will promote space technology and space programmes on a large scale. Newer companies need to be given financial support and the much-needed technical assistance to take to the skies, as space exploration can lead to several economic opportunities. To that extent, private investments need to be incentivised.

Satellite Communications (SATCOM) technologies can give rise to avenues in space science and this is not just for top-notch aerospace companies. The spotlight should be on creating a market for manufacturing space-related solutions. Broadly speaking, this could include low-cost, accurate simulation tools and materials required for testing equipment and improving the design of ground-based space products. Hardware and software solutions need to be made available for communication and precision-led simulation processes, along with antenna systems and intelligent systems.

With infrastructure in place, small and big space-tech and space science companies should ideally attract venture capitalists.

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