The launch of the Radar Imaging Satellite (Risat-1) is a major step forward for India, but it must increase its capacity and launch many more satellites to be considered a serious player in making military satellites, says an official of a US-based space consultancy firm.
"Risat-1 represents another step forward for India. Its synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which enables imaging through bad weather conditions during both day and night, will assist Indian land management, agriculture monitoring and resource observation. The satellite mission is in keeping with India's traditional use of space assets for social benefit," David Vaccaro, programme manager at the Futron Corporation, told IANS in an e-mail interview.
He, however, said India cannot be considered a major force in building military satellites at present.
"With the development of SAR imagers and applications, India is increasingly capable of producing satellites that could be used for surveillance and military reconnaissance. However, for it to become a greater player in this regard, it must first increase its capacity to build and launch such satellites quickly, and in larger volumes," Vaccaro said.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the 1,858 kg indigenously built Risat-1 from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on its polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) April 26.
Vaccaro said, "India has moderately strong satellite manufacturing capabilities, but could benefit from greater privatisation and a deeper commercial focus."
Currently, the centralisation of satellite production in ISRO and Antrix Corporation (ISRO's commercial arm) is impeding the emergence of commercial satellite manufacturing firms, he remarked.
According to him, India has an advantage in its highly skilled human capital base.
Asked to compare between India and China in the space sector, Vaccaro said, "India's space strengths include its satellite programmes and applications, including meteorology, remote sensing, environmental imaging and telecommunications."
"By contrast, the most formidable Chinese space strengths are in its significant launch capacity and its human spaceflight programme. China performed more orbital launches in 2011 than the United States, a key milestone that placed China second only to Russia for the first time in history. China is also now one of only three countries to demonstrate human spaceflight capability, the others being Russia and the US," he added.
According to him, with effort, India is capable of joining the human space flight club. But this would entail a succession of tests leading up to an eventual manned launch.
"Unless the programme received the highest priority from the Indian government, it would require at least a decade for India to create its own indigenous human spaceflight capability," Vaccaro said.
India should invest in the infrastructure to perform more frequent orbital launch missions with consistent reliability, he suggested.
"With this infrastructure and track record in place, India will be able to play a larger role in more advanced missions, such as Moon or Mars efforts. And a more frequent launch tempo would also make India more of a player in the commercial launch market," he remarked.