Indian Government Boosts Space Spending, Private Sector Involvement

GSLV Mark III inaugural flight test. (Credit: ISRO)

The Indian government has been committing funding to the nation’s space agency, ISRO, with the objective of the private sector taking a greater role.

The government committing Rs 10,500 crore [$1.54 billion] to the space agency for building 10 Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and 30 workhorse PSLV rockets over 2019-2024 clearly spells out India’s space ambitions.

But, what has truly far-reaching impact is that the Rs 6,131-crore [$907.4 million] commitment for PSLVs requires Isro to increase industry participation in the rocket programme. To be sure, this is something the space agency has been doing steadily over the recent years—it has already begun technology transfer to an industry consortium that includes Godrej Aerospace, L&T, and even public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics. The consortium that has been contributing rocket systems so far—nearly 80% of the development work on launch vehicles has already been outsourced, though under Isro supervision—will now be involved in rocket assembly at Isro facilities. This will be in keeping with the government-Isro-industry vision of getting the private sector ready for taking over the PSLV programme on an end-to-end basis, coordinated by Antrix, Isro’s commercial arm.

Former Isro chief AS Kiran Kumar had highlighted how the space agency was struggling to serve India’s emerging space technology needs being the lone player—India’s 34 working communication satellites serve less than half of the country’s needs. Besides, given there are pending and emerging needs of both the government and industry, developing an ecosystem for private sector space companies to supplement Isro’s efforts has become urgent. Though Indian policy allows private players to operate communication satellites under the regulation of the Committee for Authorising the establishment and operations of Indian Satellite Systems—this dates back to a policy from 2000—the sparse industry participation since shows this hasn’t helped much.

Meanwhile, India’s newest and most powerful booster, GSLV Mk III, will be getting a more powerful engine.

The Space Commission has given approval to Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to develop a semi-croygenic engine, which will increase the lifting capability of its GSLV Mk III rocket by one tonne.

Talking to TOI about the new project, Isro chairman K Sivan said, “After a presentation before the Space Commission, Isro has got the approval for developing the semi-cryogenic rocket stage. The deadline to develop this stage is 29 months. Once the stage is ready, the carrying capability of GSLV Mk III will increase from the existing four tonnes to five tonnes.”