Record-Setting Indian Space Budget Includes Funds for Large Satellites

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is slated to receive a record 35-percent funding increase for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, a budget that includes funds to begin work on a new generation of large communications satellites.

The total ISRO budget for the year beginning April 1, announced by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the Parliament in New Delhi Feb. 28, is 36 billion rupees ($815 million). The budget likely will be formally approved by the Parliament by March 31.

“The allocations are in tune with the total outlay approved for the five-year plan ending in 2007,” ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said in a Feb. 28 telephone interview.

Included in the plan is 250 million rupees to begin development work on a new generation of communications satellites in the 4-metric-ton class, according to ISRO budget documents. The satellites will incorporate “advanced technologies of relevance for [the] future,” the budget documents said.

India’s current generation of indigenously built Insat communications and meteorological satellites generally weigh in the neighborhood of 2 to 3 metric tons. The larger satellites are being developed both to fulfill India’s growing domestic needs and possibly for future export on the international market, according to Krishnamurthy. The first of these satellites would not launch before 2010, he said.

Rajiv Lochan, assistant scientific secretary of ISRO, said the new class of satellites would not be marketed commercially until the first few are launched and integrated into the domestic Insat system.

ISRO already is working on a launcher that will be able to loft 4-ton satellites to geostationary transfer orbit. The Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk 3 is slated to make its first developmental flight in 2008, according to Krishnamurthy.

ISRO has been allocated 4.2 billion rupees in its 2006-2007 budget for the GSLV Mk 3, which also will be capable of placing 10 tons of payload into low Earth orbit.

Another major driver of the spending hike is the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, which also is slated to receive roughly 4.2 billion rupees. The system, consisting of a network of ground stations and a geostationary-orbiting satellite to be launched in the next year or two, is designed to enhance signals of the U.S. GPS satellite system throughout India and extending 1,500 kilometers beyond the nation’s borders.

The budget allocates a total of 8.7 billion rupees for satellite development, including elements of the regional navigation system. ISRO’s ongoing remote sensing satellite projects include Cartosat-2, which will collect images sharp enough to discern objects 1 meter across; Oceansat-2; Resourcesat-2; and a radar imaging satellite. Also under development are the Astrosat space observatory and Metsat-2, a dedicated geostationary-orbiting weather satellite.

A total of 1.4 billion rupees in the budget is set aside for the Chandrayaan moon mission, which will include U.S. and European instruments in its payload package and is scheduled to launch in 2007.