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Rocket Science: India’s $9 Billion, 10-year Space Effort

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been in the news for many reasons, including controversy over a deal it struck with a private company over allocation of bandwidth. IndiaSpend’s Sourjya Bhowmick puts together a snapshot of ISRO’s budgets for the last decade and its efforts and successes over the period of its existence.

 

ISRO’s key job is to develop India’s space technology. It currently runs programmes like Indian National Satellite System (INSAT), Indian Remote Sensing Satellite system (IRS), two Satellite Launch Vehicles viz., Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). There are 19 ISRO centres across the country.

 

Let’s begin with the expenditure on ISRO in recent years. The Department of Space has a budget of its own, which is exclusively meant for the ISRO. The total budget of the ISRO this year is Rs 6,715 crore. This includes a plan outlay of Rs 5,615 crore. For the last 10 years, ISRO’s total budget has stood at Rs 43,867 crore.

 

In this period, ISRO has launched its PSLV rockets 14 times, 6 GSLV (only 3 of them being successful) and 31 satellites (Chandrayan being the only space mission).

 

ISRO’s Budget Over Last 10 Years

 

The table below gives an idea of the total budget that the ISRO gets:

 

Year Plan Outlay Non-Plan Outlay Total Budget Increase
2012-2013 5,615 1,100 6,715 89
2011-2012 5,700 926 6,626 848
2010-2011 5,000 778 5,778 819
2009-2010 4,100 859 4,959 885
2008-2009 3,600 474 4,074 216
2007-2008 3,420 438 3,858 248
2006-2007 3,220 390 3,610 462
2005-2006 2,800 348 3,148 417
2004-2005 2,400 331 2,731 363
2003-2004 2,050 318 2,368

(Rs Crore)

 

The Non-Plan heads of the budget include a few components which are; Space Research Rocket Development, Space Applications and Sciences, Operation cost of the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) and Other Programmes. The major fund is generally received by the Space Research Development and INSAT programmes.

 

The trend which can be noticed in the budget of the ISRO is the continuous rise over the last ten years. We had earlier written about the DRDO and whether it’s funding is enough compared to the work that is doing. Thus, the inevitable question that arises is whether the ISRO is also running the world’s most cost effective satellite and space programme.

 

Achievements Over Last Few Decades

 

INSAT operations this year are budgeted to be Rs 1,221 crore. Let’s see what programmes the ISRO has been successfully completed over the last few decades.

 

Satellites

 

ISRO’s first satellite was launched in 1975 and called Aryabhatta, an experimental/small satellite. The latest was RISAT I on April 26, 2012.  In this period there have been 66 satellite launches by the ISRO. Of these, 25 were Earth Observation satellite, 25 Geo-stationary satellite and others being Experimental satellite. Chandrayan-I launched in 2008 and SROSS launched in 1994 were Space Missions.

 

Launch Vehicles

 

Launch Vehicles are used to transport and put satellites into space. Many countries worldwide take the help of private companies for this. ISRO launched its first satellite launch vehicle (SLV 3) on 18 July, 1980. Then in 24 March, 1987 Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle was made operational.

 

Other programmes include the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), capable of launching a 1,600 kg satellite in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit. However, the PSLV had one unsuccessful launch of IRS 1E on 20 September, 1993 out of the total of 21 operations. PSLV has even launched 27 foreign satellites from various countries till now.

 

Then there is the Geo synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), capable of launching INSAT, which are 2000-2500 kg, had its first successful launch in 18 April, 2001 and the last operation in 25 December, 2010. In this period there have been 7 operations, with 3 of them being unsuccessful.

 

An important project under development currently is the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV III). It is developed to carry satellites of INSAT IV class, which weigh around 4000-5000 kg. It is also aimed at increasing India’s stake at the highly expensive commercial launch market worldwide.

 

However, if we see the budget for the development GSLV III it is Rs 72 crore this year. Surprisingly, in the budget of 2011-2012 the revised estimates stood at Rs 110 crore. There is a decrease of Rs 38 crore in this year’s budget. One reason could be that it is almost complete as it is scheduled for its first experimental launch in 2012.

 

PSLV, as already mentioned has launched 27 foreign satellites till now. Satellite launches are a fairly viable industry and perhaps that’s one reason the Government funds the PSLV programme generously each year. This year the programme has been budgeted Rs 380 crore. The revised estimates of 2011-2012 stood at Rs 254 crore.

 

In contrast to large scale engineering and technology based initiatives, India’s space programme appears to score in efficient use of funds and resources. We did consider comparing ISRO with NASA and other space programmes globally but the comparisons would be too stretched.

 

In any case NASA budgets are currently running around $17 billion a year and have averaged $13 billion a year for most of the 1990s and 2000s. In contrast, ISRO has spent $9 billion in the last decade. It would be safe to assume that the cumulative investment over 60 years (since ISRO’s inception) would only be twice or thrice as much of NASA’s yearly budget. Not quite rocket science.

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