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Space, the big market

Isro has excelled in launching multiple small satellites. It’s time now to dream big.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2009 23:31 IST

This week saw yet another successful multiple satellite launch, via the trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The payloads included India’s Oceansat-2 remote sensing satellite and six nano satellites from Germany, Turkey and Switzerland — at a modest price tag of Rs 235 crore. This launch signals another notch in the belt for Isro, whose efforts at indigenisation have succeeded despite budget constraints and international technology denial regimes. It also shows the way forward into India’s trajectory of welding science and technology to a competitive business. Add to this the joint discovery with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the ‘presence of water on the moon’, and Indian space science can be seen in a new, mature orbit.

Over the last few years Isro has helped India become self-reliant in building launch vehicles for both polar and geostationary orbits and spacecraft. By successfully injecting multiple satellites in a single launch, it has managed to create a niche for itself in the global space market, offering cost-effective satellite lift-offs for overseas customers. From pollution monitoring to remote sensing and ocean studies to space physics and more, small research satellites are where it’s at — they are easier to launch, less time-consuming and cost-effective, given that many can be launched simultaneously. The fact that other major players like the US and France have now little interest in the rent-a-rocket business has made Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and Israel turn to India for sending their satellites up in space.

It’s time now for us to cash in on the space rush. Besides providing a thrifty launch pad, Isro needs to target the market for big communication satellites. It has the requisite expertise after having put a dozen national communications satellites in orbit. Given its future ambitions that include a robotic landing on the moon and a mission to Mars — and with the lifting of curbs on the launch of non-commercial US satellites and satellites with US components on Indian launch vehicles — one of India’s more successful research behemoths should push for a full-blown lift-off.