In a bold move, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is opening up to market forces and is hoping to hand over part of the lucrative rocket launch business and satellite manufacturing to the Indian industry.
India's workhorse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which has completed 20 consecutively successful launches under the eagle eye of ISRO, is one such technology that the agency is hoping to hive off to private players. Today, about 80 % of the vehicle is put together with parts supplied by the private industry. If K Radhakrishnan, the current chairman of ISRO and a manager trained at the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore has his way, then the entire vehicle itself could well be made and launched by private players.
Mr Radhakrishnan says, "The PSLV is a reliable vehicle...there are requirements of putting Indian satellites, and in the global market, the PSLV too has a niche. Capability is there, demand is there, now how to enhance the capacity to realize more PSLVs? As of now more than 400 industrial firms are working for realizing various elements of PSLV. Can we get the Indian space industry to realize the [entire] PSLV vehicle itself?"
Each PSLV vehicle costs the tax payer about Rs 120 crores, and today ISRO can, at best, fabricate four PSLV rockets per year. In the next two-three years, almost a dozen launches of PSLV are already slated and ISRO will be stretched to meet these requirements.
The plan is to carve out a 250-acre, dedicated 'Space Park' adjoining the space port at Sriharikota, which could be used by private players to develop the Indian aerospace industry.
ISRO is also thinking of hiving off the money-spinning communication satellite business. Adding further, Mr Radhakrishnan said, "On communications satellites, there is a large demand for transponders today. So, if the proven platforms of communications satellites...if they could be replicated with the help of the industry. With industry taking a major role, that is another way of meeting the national demands at the earliest possible."
Today, the global space business is valued at $ 177 billion and growing. So, will the Indian industry not want a share? M V Kotwal, Board Member, Larsen & Toubro & President Heavy Engineering and head of L&T's space and nuclear business told NDTV, "If ISRO is interested in partnering the Indian Industry in overall management of the entire Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle programme and the communications satellite fabrication programme, it is a very welcome and necessary step. With its wide experience and expertise in project management, L&T would be positively inclined and well placed to take over the complete programme management with technical support from ISRO. In future, we could jointly explore global opportunities in these domains."
With missions to Mars, moon and sun on the mind, ISRO rightfully seeks to divest itself of repeat and routine manufacturing which is best done by nimble private players, but with the Antrix-Devas fiasco fresh in everyone's mind, will the private players really bite the bait? ISRO now seeks to do what it does best - cutting-edge research. So it now wants to sell off its launcher and communication satellite units to the industry.