ISRO takes NASA route, private satellites in five years

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New Delhi, April 8: Years after NASA took a decision to privatise part of its space programme, the Indian space agency ISRO is planning to have private communication satellites and launch vehicles.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is setting up a national committee to study feasibility of on hiving off production of communication satellites and polar satellite launch vehicles (PSLVs) to the private sector.

The space agency is looking towards the launch of the first privately built rocket in the next five years.

The private sector participation in development of communication satellites is almost 80 per cent. If the private sector takes over satellites and launch vehicles manufaturing, the ISRO scientists will be able to concentrate on research-oriented activities, and have greater involvement of academic institutions.

The space agency is keen to focus on unique science projects, develop remote sensing satellites and do more research and development instead of engaging in the repititive exercise of building communication satellites and launch vehicles.

"We are now setting up a national committee to work out the modalities on how to go about it," ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan told a media organisation, when asked about the agency's plans to rope in the industry for producing PSLVs and communication satellites.

The committee will work on the revenue model, technology transfer and related matters.

He said the space agency had told the industry representatives at a meeting in Ahmedabad in January that it was looking at PSLVs and communication satellites produced by them.

"My target is five years from now on. Five years from now the first PSLV will roll out from that entity," Radhakrishnan said.

At NASA, nearly after 50 years of designing and building its own rockets and spacecraft, the agency decided to outsource some of the equipment that enables its manned space missions to private contractors.
The February 2003 Columbia space-shuttle disaster, in which seven astronauts died, forced NASA to rethink its way of doing business. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board's final report "found a NASA blinded by a 'Can Do' attitude, a cultural artifact of the Apollo era that was inappropriate in a Space Shuttle program so strapped by schedule pressures and shortages that space parts had to be cannibalized from one vehicle to launch another."

In 2006, the first round of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts was won by SpaceX corporation of Hawthorne, Calif., which received a contract worth $278 million, and by Rocketplane Kistler of Oklahoma City, which was supposed to get $207 million.

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