India's Space Agency Conducts 100th Mission
Image Credit: ISRO

India's Space Agency Conducts 100th Mission


On September 9th India’s space agency conducted its 100th mission when an Indian rocket launched a French satellite.

What will India’s next 100 space missions involve?  Should India focus on building fleets of satellites, sending probes to the moon and Mars, human space flight, or perhaps a combination of all of them? An optimal space strategy will focus on a mix of economic, scientific, and strategic missions.

Since 1975, India’s space agency has built 62 satellites and 38 rockets. It initially constructed light rockets that could only put small 50kg to 100 kg scientific satellites to low-earth-orbit (LEO); none of these had significant military or economic capabilities. In the mid-1990s, however, it began launching the more powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and sequentially developed the even more powerful Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)—which uses the PSLV’s first two stages and has a cryogenic engine, initially built by Russia and now built by India, in its third stage.

The reliable PSLV, which has had 21 consecutive successful flights, can carry 1-ton earth observation satellites to LEO. Images from these satellites have found useful economic applications in areas ranging from agricultural and environmental monitoring, to geology and urban planning. The less successful GSLV, which has failed four of its seven flights, can carry 4 ton payloads to LEO or 2 ton communication satellites to the higher Geostationary Earth Orbit (Orbit). Its successor, the GSLV Mark 3, will be able to lift 4 ton communication satellites, capable of carrying a larger number of transponders and facilitating a greater volume of communications, to GEO. It can alternatively lift an 8 ton payload to LEO. Until the GSLV and GSLV Mark 3 are proven, however, India’s space agency will use foreign launchers such as the European Ariane rockets to launch some of its communications satellites, as it has done a number of times over the past decade.

In recent years, on a budget of $1 billion to $1.5 billion, India’s space program has annually conducted two to three space launches. Assuming that the budget increases modestly each year, it can conduct four launches annually over the next five years, and five or more annually in the following five years. Thus, over the next decade, India can launch about 50 satellites or other payloads on Indian rockets and perhaps 15 satellites on foreign launchers. India can make optimal use of these space assets by allocating some 10%-15% of the Indian launches toward strategic military applications; another 10-15% for scientific and developmental missions; the remaining 70-80% for economic applications; and most of the foreign launches for economic applications.

The end result of these more than 100 space missions would be a formidable space force. India can then have a fleet of five to ten dedicated military satellites—one or two each for its army, navy and air force, and one to two for a nuclear command authority. Its PSLV can launch another four to five scientific payloads, such as an astronomy satellite and probes to the moon and Mars. India can work to perfect its GSLV so that it can then reliably carry 2 ton communication satellites to GEO or a 4 ton space capsule to LEO (India’s space agency has conceptualized such space capsules that carry astronauts into space). It can conduct one or two developmental flights of the GSLV Mark 3, so that, after a few additional test flights, it is available for launching 4 ton communication satellites to GEO, or a larger 8 ton space capsule (similar in weight to China’s space capsules) to LEO. India can continue to launch a few satellites for international clients. And it will have about 50 satellites catering to various sectors of its own economy—perhaps 10 for a regional navigational network; 15 – 20 for earth observation; a few for meteorological missions; and 15 – 20 more for communications and other purposes.

Four other developments can significantly augment India’s space efforts.

First, India can build up the ground segment of its space program to make optimal use of the data acquired from its space assets.

Second, it can transfer many of its proven space launch and satellite projects to the private sector, which already manufactures and fabricates the key components for India’s rockets and satellites.

Third, it can continue its international collaboration endeavors.

Fourth, it can begin looking toward its 200th to 300th space missions. Most of these will still focus on economic, strategic, and scientific applications—they will essentially involve replacing the satellites launched in the 100th to 200th missions that will retire after operating for five to ten years of operation. Yet other missions can explore new frontiers such as alternative launch vehicles, a space plane which is presently in a prototype phase, and space capsules for a manned space program. Such a mix of missions will have important national and international ramifications—they will enable India’s space agency to fulfill its original mandate of applying high-technology toward the advancement of India’s economy, and they will affirm India’s status as one of the world’s six major space powers.

Dinshaw Mistry is associate professor at the University of Cincinnati. He specializes in nuclear, missile, and space technology, and is author of “Containing Missile Proliferation.” This piece originally appeared on the Indian Council on Global Relations’ Gateway House.  

September 18, 2012 at 03:02

India is Ripe for Revolution to be the Next super Power in 21st century. Poverty is there and Indian Govt spends 10 to 15 billion dollars for poverty alleviation scheme in India. Aadhar would be implemented and every citizen would receive his welfare benefits without corruption.

India : Ripe For Revolution?
September 14, 2012 at 17:40

The world shakes its head at the sheer stupidity of India.  Spending billions to build rockets and its armed forces while hundreds of millions of its own people go to bed hungry if they are not bedless, roofless and starving in the first place!  The more the Indian government goes on even bigger ego trips, the more the world sigh and shakeits head at such an irresponsible government.  There will be a wrencing revolution that will come against such depravity of the utterly self centred and selfish Indian "Brahministic" class.

S. Muralidharan
September 14, 2012 at 02:59

While the author speaks about augmenting space missions with international collaboration, its time also to plan for the problem of space debris that is really becoming a greater problem with each and every mission into space that must be eventually taken care of for the safety of future astronauts and spacecrafts.
Now according to some reports, there are nearly 11,000 pieces of space debris in earth's orbit that are larger than three inches and can be currently detected.  There are millions of smaller pieces of space debris that are unable to be detected too. Despite the size of these objects, they all have the potential to be lethal because of the speed that they are travelling, especially, since most space debris are travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometers per hour.  For instance, it has been found that even a single grain of sand has caused serious damage to the heat shields of the space shuttles.
ISRO, along with other space agencies of other countries, should take special attention to this space debris menace, as we have already polluted mother earth, and are finding it difficult to put the earth back in order, and now we are filling the space with debris in the guise of technology innovation.  It should be the mandatory requirement of every space agency to bring back the satellite to earth once it has served the purpose and become fully redundant.
S. Muralidharan
Executive Director, Knowledge Foundation, NOIDA

Anuj sharma
September 13, 2012 at 16:00

India has already launched 100 missions and is ready to send a mars mission in which China failed. Its not going to take long when India will be leading the asian space programme. Sorry China, your good days are already gone and your bad days are about to begin. ISRO is the best!!

September 12, 2012 at 04:09

This is a ra-ra article for India with a lot of wishful thinking thrown in.  Absent in thisarticle is the need for India to perfect their cryogenic rocket engine before all this talk of launching 8, 4 or even 2 tonne payloads by themsleves.

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