An Indian government inquiry to gauge private-sector interest in taking over the nation’s telecommunications satellite manufacturing responsibilities has drawn an enthusiastic response, officials here said.

“As many as 20 proposals from Indian companies have been received in response to our announcement of opportunity,” S. Krishnamurthy, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said May 15.

The March 20 solicitation invited expressions of interest from Indian companies in building communications satellite platforms based on ISRO designs. In the announcement, ISRO said it foresaw the possibility of ordering eight to 10 satellites from industry over four to five years.

Krishnamurthy said ISRO will hold a series of discussions with the companies that met the April 30 deadline for responding to the solicitation. “It will take about five to six months before any company is enlisted,” he said.

According to ISRO, the selected company or companies would build the satellite platform based on ISRO designs and be responsible for integration and testing.

ISRO, which has built all of India’s satellites to date, would provide step-by-step training and assistance, both at its own facilities and those of the selected industrial partners during the initial phase of the project. This will be followed by more arm’s-length ISRO oversight, Krishnamurthy said.

“As part of this familiarization process, the first satellite will be built jointly by ISRO and the selected industry,” Krishnamurthy said. “As the industry acquires more experience, ISRO’s role will be limited to reviewing the acceptance test results and reliability and quality aspects,” he said.

An ISRO official, who did not want to be named, said the first communications satellite built by India’s private sector will launch in 2009.

India’s domestic industry supplies electronic subsystems and other hardware such as solar panels, batteries, heat pipes and transponders for ISRO’s satellites, but so far has not been involved in building and integrating spacecraft platforms.

The invitation to industry for building telecom satellites is part of ISRO’s new policy that calls for greater reliance on the private sector to meet the nation’s growing appetite for space-based capabilities.

Under this policy — declared in ISRO’s March 2006 performance budget report — ISRO said it will utilize ” in-house resources on program planning, management, systems engineering, and technology innovation while the production will come from industries.”

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...