The world may be flat for India's exploding tech industry, but the next global ambition — being shaped on a spindle-shaped island in the Bay of Bengal —depends firmly on the earth's curvature.
At Sriharikota, India's sole spacesport, international orders for satellites are mounting, and with them the country's global ambitions. That is why the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is preparing to throw open its once closely guarded rocket programme to the private industry.
“To start with, we'll outsource non-critical applications that constitute 50 per cent of the rocket programme to the private sector,” Dr M Annamalai, director, Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota Range, told HT. “For certain operations, we've invited tenders from the industry. We'll give you the names (of industries) once the formalities are completed.”
HT has learnt that five companies have submitted bids: Tatas, Mahindras, Godrej, L&T and the Bangalore-based Aversala.
“This is a big opportunity for the private sector in India,” said Godrej spokesman SN Vaidya. Another company spokesman said much of the West’s space engineering was done by the private sector. He said NASA was now outsourcing even major research, focusing increasingly on concepts.
It’s estimated India could build 15 to 20 satellites each year (the current capacity is eight) as the country offers its satellite-building and launch services to other nations.
In April, the space agency offered outsourcing of satellite systems and satellites to private companies, based on ISRO designs. It has projected a demand for at least 10 satellites -- from private telecom companies as well as international customers.
ISRO now plans to outsource a chunk of the work in the manufacture of indigenous rockets -- the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) -- to the industry. It intends to hand-hold companies through the manufacturing process. Quality control too will rest with ISRO.
The long-term objective is to free ISRO engineers and scientists to focus on research and new technologies.
Outsourcing would also help ISRO become a serious contender in the global satellite-launch market. "Our launch costs are 30-35 per cent cheaper than foreign launches," Dr Annamalai said.
A beginning was made when ISRO invited Ranchi-based PSU Mecon to construct the second launch pad at this spaceport at a cost of Rs 400 crore on a turnkey basis. Mecon then outsourced some work to other public and private industries. The new launch pad will be used during the GSLV's blast-off in July to place the INSAT 4C satellite in orbit.
Companies like L&T and Walchand Nagar Industries have already played a role in manufacture of systems and components for launch vehicles in recent years. Also, HAL has supplied four strap-on boosters for GSLV, while Andhra Sugars Ltd produces liquid propellants that power the rocket.