Space programs for a country where over 20% live in poverty: The rationale
New Delhi, Sep 24: Successive governments in India have encouraged space missions. For decades, there has been a criticism that India spends heavily on space programs when around 20% of the population lives in poverty and a lot needs to done on the social development front. India, since the time of Nehru, has maintained that spending on science and technology leads to all-round social development.
It is this relentless pursuit of excellence in science that has given the country excellent institutions like ISRO, DRDO, BARC and many other scientific organisations.
ISRO has progressed by leaps and bounds and is considered among world's top space agencies. And ISRO's know-how and technological prowess can in fact be used for commercial purposes whoch in turn can bring in a lot of revenue needed to implement social welfare programs.
The satellite launch market is extremely lucrative and is said to be around USD 6 billion industry. United States, France and Russia control nearly 75% of this market. All three countries have their own launch vehicles and charge heavily from the customers wanting to put their satellites in orbit
Small satellites are transforming the dynamics and economics of space industry. The global market for small satellites is estimated to be worth USD 7.53 billion by 2022.
ISRO has already proven its mettle in launching small-medium weight satellites into the orbit with its trusted workhorse PSLV. ISRO has now developed a medium lift launch vehicle GSLV Mk-3 which placed Chandrayaan-2 in orbit. Last year, ISRO successfully launched a record 104 satellites onboard its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in a single mission. Out of these 104 satellites, 101 satellites were of foreign countries - 96 from the US and one each from Israel, UAE, Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.
ISRO has a distinct cost advantage. In 2014, ISO successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation to do so. The mission cost USD 67million was staggeringly cheap. Even the cost of Chandrayaan-2 was so less that it cost than making some Hollywood movies.
When PSLV orbited about 100 small satellites in a single launch, it demonstrated its fourth stage restart capability targeting multiple orbits. ISRO is also working on developing a dedicated small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) which is likely to start launches this year. Having a range of launch vehicles capable of orbiting a wide variety satellites is one thing, but gaining trust of international customers who have for decades relied on European and American companies for launches is another. It is in this respect that Gaganyaan would help. It would help ISRO to emerge as a trustable brand in the field of space technology.
Once ISRO establishes itself as a competent space agency that can put satellites into orbit, it will get more business and since launch costs are in millions the profits can be used develop better and more effective technologies. So, this business rationale justifies government spending on space programs.
Gaganyaan can also encourage ISRO to dive into lucrative business of 'Space Tourism'. If India does enter space tourism, the impact would be huge as investment in space tourism can generate revenues and employment on a sizeable scale. Space tourism would require personnel for building the spacecraft, to training travellers, to investment and insurance.
In 2011, the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, conducted a pilot study exploring the scope of a space tourism industry in India, which suggests that India could reduce the overall cost of commercial space travel. It states that at present, anyone looking to buy a seat to outer space will have to dish out roughly $200,000 but if India can bring that figure down by a fourth, it will be a competitive player in the market, said a HuffingtonPost report.
When ISRO would be offer an entire gamut of launching services with its different launch vehicles, the revenue that it would bring to the country can be utilised in overall development. ISRO has already proved itself capable of developing complex technologies. So, time is not far when ISRO would be competing in launch market with giants like Ariane Space, SpaceX and Rocket Lab.