India To Double On-orbit Transponders by 2017 under $7.2B Plan

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BANGALORE, India — India plans to double its number of on-orbit transponders, bolster its Earth observing fleet and deploy a regional satellite navigation system as part of a five-year government investment program that allocates 397.5 billion rupees ($7.2 billion) to space activities, documents show.

India’s 12th five-year plan, approved Dec. 27 by the National Development Council, a top-level panel chaired by the prime minister that decides development investment strategy, provides 1.2 trillion rupees to six scientific departments from April 2012 through March 2017, with the Department of Space receiving the largest single allocation. Space was designated to receive 308.8 billion rupees during the previous five-year plan, but only 158.3 billion rupees of that total was actually spent during the period.

According to the documents, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to launch 14 telecommunications satellites between now and March 2017, increasing its on-orbit transponder count from 195 today to 400. India has struggled in recent years to keep up with domestic demand for satellite communications capacity, primarily for television services. To help meet that demand, India has slowly opened its domestic market to foreign commercial satellite services.

ISRO also plans to deploy a regional navigation system consisting of seven satellites in geosynchronous orbits, each of which will have continuous coverage of the Indian Ocean region, the documents show. Four of those satellites will be in geostationary orbit, meaning they will be stabilized at fixed points above the equator, while the other three will move back and forth along a north-south axis.

Eight Earth observation satellites would be launched during the period, including one capable of collecting imagery at resolutions of 0.25 meters, which is sharp enough to detect objects of that size and larger. Also in the plans is the Geo Imaging Satellite, or Gisat, for disaster management support, the documents show.

In space transportation, the primary focus will be achieving self-sufficiency in satellite launching, the documents show. India has rockets capable of launching satellites to low and geostationary orbits, but relies on other countries to loft its largest communications satellites.

By 2017, ISRO hopes to have a fully operational Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) featuring an indigenously developed cryogenic upper stage. The GSLV, still considered experimental, has not flown since a pair of 2010 failures, the first of which was attributed to the domestic upper stage, which was making its maiden flight.

ISRO hopes to complete by 2017 development of the GSLV Mark 3 rocket, designed to launch 4-ton satellites to geostationary orbit.

The plan also includes technology development and demonstrations related to human spaceflight and reusable launch vehicle development, as well as a pair of planetary missions: a follow-on to the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter and India’s first Mars mission. The Mars probe, carrying 25 kilograms of payload, would operate in a 500-kilometer-by-80,000-kilometer orbit around the red planet and is slated to launch next year.