NEW DELHI - The Indian Space
Research Organization (ISRO) is a state-owned
entity rare in the country for meaning business
and actually delivering. Last week, the agency
marked its 100th mission by successfully deploying
into orbit a French Earth observation satellite
and a Japanese micro-satellite, using its
workhorse single-entry Polar Satellite Launch
"As ISRO's 100th space
mission, today's launch is a milestone in our
nation's space capabilities,'' said Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, who watched the launch live at
ISRO's space center at Sriharikota, north of
Defending India's space program
and the budgets involved, Manmohan said,
"Questions are asked whether a poor country
like India can afford a
space program.This misses the point that a
nation's state of development is finally a product
of its technological prowess.''
estimated to have spent 200 billion rupees (US$3.6
billion) of taxpayers' money over the past five
years on its multiple space-related activities and
The organization has come a long
way since in 1975 it launched its first satellite,
Aryabhatta, on a Russian rocket. Since then, ISRO
has had success in developing two categories of
rockets - the PSLVs, designed for Earth
observation and scientific missions, and the
larger Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles
(GSLVs), which deliver heavy communications
satellites into geostationary orbits 36,000
kilometers above the Earth where they can "hover''
over the same place.
Though the previous two
GSLV tests by ISRO were unsuccessful, the agency
has been conducting a series of ground tests, and
is slated to launch its GSLV space mission early
For decades, ISRO was
hobbled by US sanctions against dual-use
technologies. Even so, it succeeded in copying
blueprints from its Cold War partner, the
erstwhile Soviet Union.
Over the past
seven to eight years, as Indo-US relations have
substantially improved, US restrictions on ISRO
have been removed, easing access to the latest
technologies. With Russia no longer the power it
was, ISRO has managed to create an independent
equity for itself in the market.
1999, ISRO began to establish itself as a global
player in the competitive satellite launching
business though it still has to hone its ability
to launch very heavy satellites, for which it
still depends on Russia or Europe.
has to-date launched 29 foreign satellites,
including the two last week, earning itself
millions of dollars in revenues. "The launch of
these [two] satellites on board an Indian launch
vehicle is testimony to the commercial
competitiveness of the Indian space industry and
is a tribute to Indian innovation and ingenuity,"
India has made progress in
missile technology alongside its strides in space
research as the motors used in the satellite
launch vehicles have been incorporated into
missiles. The GSLV motors, for example, have
formed critical stages of operations of the
long-range Agni ballistic missiles that are
capable of delivering nuclear payloads.
India, Pakistan and China are at various
stages of developing attack as well as ballistic
missile defense systems. With China, given its
much superior abilities, actively involved in
helping Pakistan's defense capabilities, India has
been seeking help from the US and Israel to ramp
up its own know-how.
This help may be
essential, as India, otherwise, has a poor record
in developing weapons indigenously, whether it is
tanks or jet fighters.
ISRO has a busy
calendar ahead with many domestic launches and
overseas orders planned. Chairman K Radhakrishnan
told reporters last week that the agency has plans
for 58 missions (25 rockets and 33 satellites)
through to 2017.
"The 25 rockets would
include PSLV, GSLV and GSLV Mark III. The
satellites include seven navigation satellites.
Then there will be series of remote sensing,
microwave and communication satellites,''
ISRO is also planning
India's second Moon mission, the Chandrayan-2,
following the success of Chandrayan-I in 2008.
Chandrayaan-2 aims to deploy a Russian-made
vehicle on the Moon's surface. New Delhi has,
however, made it clear that it is in no hurry to
push for a manned mission to the Moon, unlike
China. This is not likely to happen before 2020.
"Our plan was always to have a manned
space flight program, which hopefully should begin
around 2015. We can't think of a manned Moon
mission anytime soon as several things have to be
achieved before that," Radhakrishnan said.
An Indian Mars mission has also been
recently approved by New Delhi. This will be one
of the most challenging tasks that ISRO will
undertake, with the goal of launching a scientific
payload in November next year.
mission is more challenging than the Chandrayaan-1
mission as it involves a voyage of 300 days and
tracking the satellite with a deep space
network,'' Radhakrishnan said. Given China's
interest in inter-planetary missions to explore
civilian, security and defense aspects, India will
not like to be lagging behind.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New
Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at
(Copyright 2012 Asia
Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please contact us about sales, syndication and