Big money for India in space

Deccan Chronicle - - EDIT -

The In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion de­serves a 21-gun salute, one for each of the 20 satel­lites it placed in or­bit and one ex­tra for luck. The 20 satel­lites — 17 be­long­ing to for­eign na­tions and three In­dian satel­lites — were put in or­bit in the space of 26 min­utes from launch, a tremen­dous rate from when an In­dian in­dige­nous satel­lite launch ve­hi­cle (SLV) first laboured into the sky in July 1980 car­ry­ing just one load — Ro­hini RS-1. That first purely In­dian suc­cess had come af­ter a fail­ure, and, be­fore that, our satel­lites had piggy-backed on Rus­sian rock­ets. Wed­nes­day’s launch was via the Po­lar Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle (PSLV, in this in­stance the PSLV-C34), a more ad­vanced ex­pend­able sys­tem of the type also used to send India’s Mars Or­biter on its way. The record for most satel­lites in a sin­gle launch is Rus­sia’s 37, fol­lowed by America’s 29.

The space race, born of the ri­valry be­tween the United States and the erst­while Soviet Union af­ter the Sec­ond World War, be­gan in earnest in 1955, fu­elled mainly by the de­sire to be able to de­liver fastest a nu­clear pay­load thou­sands of miles away. The other fac­tor was pride. A third fac­tor has ex­isted for some time now: money. The space launch busi­ness is worth an es­ti­mated $300 bil­lion and India is well in po­si­tion to cap­i­talise. Wed­nes­day’s launch of 17 for­eign satel­lites rep­re­sented coun­tries in three con­ti­nents and earned Isro $100 mil­lion. That’s a mi­nus­cule frac­tion of the pos­si­bil­i­ties in dol­lar terms. India has be­come a ma­jor com­peti­tor and, till now, has sent 74 satel­lites from 20 coun­tries into space. A coun­try’s as­pi­ra­tions grow with its pros­per­ity. As the world’s less de­vel­oped coun­tries dream big­ger, India will be the pre­ferred sup­plier of satel­lite launches, not just be­cause we do it cheaper than the oth­ers but be­cause of the cred­i­bil­ity gained over five decades in the space busi­ness. The fact that First World busi­nesses which thrive on a bang for their buck, like Earth-imag­ing pri­vate com­pany Planet Labs and Google’s Terra Bella, picked Isro over their own space agency Nasa is a case in point: cheaper and trust­wor­thy.

The next big step in this busi­ness will be heav­ier pay­loads and big­ger prof­its. Isro cur­rently has the ca­pa­bil­ity to han­dle two tonnes but is aim­ing for 10 tonnes. It is in the process of test­ing a heav­ier satel­lite launcher called the GSLV Mark 3 and has set it­self a tar­get of 70 satel­lite launches in the next five years.

Feats to do with space have a gee-whiz qual­ity that bur­nishes a gov­ern­ment’s lus­tre, es­pe­cially when you have a Prime Min­is­ter re­peat­edly talk­ing about devel­op­ment and how ad­vances in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy can im­prove peo­ple’s lives.

As the world’s less de­vel­oped coun­tries dream big­ger, India will be the pre­ferred sup­plier of satel­lite launches, not just be­cause we do it cheaper than the oth­ers but be­cause of its cred­i­bil­ity

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