Exploring space is expensive — and ISRO needs more money from the 2020 Union Budget

Chandrayaan 2, India's mission to the moon, taking off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SCSC) in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh aboard the 'Bahubali', ISRO's Geosynchornous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).ISRO

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) plans for outer space exploration have gotten more ambitious — but they also cost more money.
  • Over the last five years, even though the money allocated to the Department of Space through the Union Budget has increased, the growth has not been consistent.
  • For the 2020 Union Budget, ISRO is hoping for additional funds to support the Chandrayaan 3 mission — India’s third mission to the moon.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is on a mission to become a space superpower. Last year, space agencies all over the world watched as India tried to soft-land on the moon with Chandrayaan 2.

The mission may not have been successful, but ISRO isn’t giving up. Its chairman, K Sivan, has officially confirmed that it has plans to Chandrayaan 3 and attempt another moon landing. In addition, it plans to launch Gaganyaan — its first manned mission to space — and set up its own space station.

While the space agency’s plans are certainly ambitious, it’s going to need a lot more resources to pull it off. The technology required to build these complex systems cost money. Currently, space technology is a bulk of the space department’s budget.
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For the Union Budget 2020, ISRO is asking the government for an additional ₹75 crore to fund Chandrayaan 3, according to a TOI report. Most of the 11% jump in ISRO’s proposed budget or ₹666 crore will go towards meeting machinery, equipment and other capital expenditure.

While it may look like the government is allocating more money towards exploring outer space— the growth has been less than stable.

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Bringing in the money
Right now, the only way that the space agency earns revenue is through its commercial arm — New Space India Limited (NSIL), formerly known as the Antrix Corporation. NSIL helps foreign governments get their satellites into space, manufactures rockets, produces space technology and helps aid the transfer of technology by ISRO centres.

Over the past five years, ISRO has launched satellites from 26 different countries and has generated ₹1,245.17 crore in revenue. In 2020, the space agency has around 10 satellite mission scheduled to launch before March.

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The most notable of which will be the test flight of ISRO’s new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). The smaller rocket can carry smaller payloads into Earth’s orbit and only needs three days to prepare for the launch. Other rockets require months of planning.

Anticipating greater demand for satellite launches, ISRO is also building a new spaceport specifically for the SSLV rocket in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

Advocates also argue that ISRO’s mission helps push the Make in India initiative. Last year, the space agency invited private players to build 5 of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs).

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India is also currently processing the ‘ Space Activities Bill’, which will fix the liability for damage with international standards. It will also allow private players to launch satellites — currently a burgeoning market globally with international private entities like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin leading the charge. And, ISRO will be able to make some money handing out licenses.

See also:
ISRO outlook 2020: Indian private sector eyes $30 billion space launch pie

India's second mission to land on the Moon, Chandrayaan 3, confirmed by ISRO chief

ISRO has its 'hands full' with 13 launches and the test of its new rocket before March

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