India intends to spend 31.48 billion rupees ($722 million) on space activities during its 2005-2006 fiscal year, an increase of roughly 6 billion rupees, or 24 percent, over the previous year, according to budget documents.

“This is a welcome development in a year that will see launch of four Indian satellites and heightened activities in preparation for the Moon mission in 2007,” S. Krishnamurthy, spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation, said in a telephone interview March 1.

Satellites slated to launch this year include the Cartosat-1 and Cartosat-2 imaging satellites, which will be lofted separately aboard Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles, and the Insat 4A and 4B telecommunications satellites, which will launch aboard European Ariane 5 rockets. Included on the Cartosat-2 launch will be an orbit-recovery capsule, Krishnamurthy said.

India’s Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle program, commands the biggest chunk of space funding for the 2005-2006 budget year, which begins April 1, according to budget documents. ISRO is developing a new and more powerful variant of that vehicle dubbed the Mark 3, which will be capable of placing payloads weighing up to 4,000 kilograms into geostationary orbit. Current versions of the vehicle are capable of placing 2,000 kilograms into that orbit.

One of the main drivers of the proposed budget increase is India’s planned Gagan navigation system, which will use a series of ground stations and transponder capacity in geostationary orbit to deliver enhanced GPS signals to support aircraft navigation. The latest budget includes 3.5 billion rupees for the Gagan system, which received no significant funding last year. Gagan is expected to begin operating in 2008.

Another new program in the budget is a successor to India’s Oceansat-1 marine remote sensing satellite, which was launched in 1999. The proposed budget includes 500 million rupees for Oceansat-2 and the program is in the approval process, with a planned launch in 2006 or 2007 aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Krishnamurthi said.

Other highlights of the 2005-2006 budget include:

– 1.26 billion rupees for a radar satellite imaging mission that is slated to launch in 2007 or 2008

– 1.06 billion rupees for the Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission slated for launch in 2007; and,

– 530 million rupees for the Astrosat astronomy satellite, which is slated for launch in 2007.

Krishnamurthy said the proposed budget also includes 3 billion rupees for space applications, including telemedicine, beaming educational programming via the Edusat satellite launched last year , and natural resource management.

India’s parliament will spend March debating the budget proposal. Typically the budgets are approved by the parliament with few changes; proposed allocations for space or science activities are rarely even discussed

Based in Bangalore, Killugudi S. Jayaraman holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was formerly science editor of the...