Indian Government approves ₹10 billion budget for two of its space programs


  • The Indian government has approved ₹10 billion in funding for programmes at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • The resources will be distributed between the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) projects.
  • Though ISRO is a research and development agency, their commercial launches help optimise costs.
Despite recent setbacks, the central government has green-lit a budget of over ₹10 billion ($149 million) for projects at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The funds are meant to provide a boost to the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) programmes.

It’s not that ISRO’s reputation is coming into question but the launch failure of the GSAT-11 and its recall along with the GSAT-6A going incommunicado has cast a shadow on matters nonetheless. Analysts have surmised that since ISRO operates on a ‘shoestring’ budget, direct monetary losses is where failures will have the most impact.

Hedging against risk

One has to understand that agency launches aren’t the same as commercial launches. Normally, the objective behind a commercial launch is to place the satellite in orbit, and then they’re done. On the other hand, when an agency launches a satellite not only do have to ensure the launch is a success but they also have to put measures in place to manage the pre-launch and post-launch operations.

So, monetary losses occur across the board whenever there’s a failed launch because delays and re-testing are resource intensive. Considering that none of the satellites launched from India by the agency are insured, it’s all the more reason to double check everything before sending the satellite into space. Because, once it’s lost, it’s a sunk cost for the agency.

In order to hedge against that risk, it makes sense that ISRO is providing a boost to its launch vehicles. Operating through its commercial partner, Antrix, India is a dominant player in the market that’s currently growing exponentially. Thus, it’s possible for more launch vehicles to increase the number of commercial launches that India can cater to.

That being said, competition has been on the rise with the entry of new firms like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Their reusable technology drastically reduces the cost of launching rockets. There have been reports of ISRO’s own reusable rocket being developed, but that may take some time.

Nonetheless, ISRO’s Chairman K Sivan has emphasised that the agency, at the end of the day, is a research and development (R&D) platform. He explained that commercial launches only serve the purpose of optimising the cost of access to space and keeping up with industry standards.

PSLV, GSLV Mk-III Programs

From the budget of ₹10 billion, ₹6 billion ($89 million) is allocated for 30 PSLV operational flights as a part of the PSLV Continuation Programme, which is currently in Phase 6. Not only does this include the purchase of 30 PSLV vehicles, but also covers the costs associated with the launch campaign, facility augmentation and programme management.

These flights will serve the purpose of meeting the required amount of satellites needed for Earth Observation, navigation and space species. And, the government claims that all the flights will be completed between 2019 to 2024.

At the same time, funding for the GSLV Mk-III Continuation Programme amounts to approximately ₹4 billion ($59 million) which will be directed towards the Phase 1. Inclusive of 10 flights, unlocking this weight category will enable India’s self-reliance for future launches of communication satellites in the four-tonne class.

The PSLV, on the other hand, has already launched 48 Indian satellites and 209 international payloads.

(Representative image: ISRO)
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