iRead, iLearn, iWrite. Hence, iBlog.

For Indian Military, Nuclear & Space matters, visit:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why India MUST pursue the development its own, credible Space-based capabilities? 02

You may read the Part 01 here

India yesterday achieved, what ISRO termed as, a textbook perfect launch of the Chandraayan-1 mission payload. It has currently been placed in a transfer orbit around the Earth, where it would be rotated around to add enough momentum to it to then whip it across into the lunar orbit. It is expected to enter lunar orbit in 15 days time. Its progress would be followed with eager anticipation.

As was being stated in the earlier post, India has some pertinent reasons for developing its own, field-tested [] Space Technology.

Show me the moolah!

All the reasons stated thus far are being shown to bear favorable results no earlier than after 20-30 years. Yet the most important reason for the continuation of our research into Space Technology is a lot more near term and probably even more important – Money.

Only nine countries till now have successfully demonstrated its ability to launch a satellite into Space. Of these Iran’s claims has often been disputed due to lack of adequate evidence to support the claim. On the other hand, France and the UK have pooled in their resources and have become members of the seventeen nation European Space agency (ESA).

Not counting these nations, including the ESA members, there are about 29 other countries that have successfully built their indigenous satellites. This number is only expected to increase as more countries develop their own indigenously made satellites. Due to the absence of their own launch capability, these countries are making use of services offered by the countries that do posses the expertise.

India, with its tested and proven PSLV capabilities and highly skilled Scientist and Engineering manpower is in a unique position to offer its services and facilities to these countries at an extremely competitive price compared to its  counterparts.

The Antrix Corporation, a section of ISRO, has been set up to explore and make use of the commercial possibilities of ISRO’s launch capabilities and expertise. Within a span of 16 years, the Antrix Corporation has had a turnover of $66.66 million USD. This number, though impressive, represents a miniscule fraction of the global business transaction in Space Technology and services.

Tapping into the extremely lucrative launch of the commercial communication satellites would need India to develop launch capabilities for satellites weighing more than 2 tonne and placing them into Geosynchronous orbit [India’s INSAT series of communication satellites weigh excess of 2 tonnes].

Development and and validation of India’s GSLV technology would enable it to launch these communication satellites. Not only would India then no longer have to seek services of other agencies for its own launches of its heavier satellites, but it can extend these very services to other countries with similar requirements.

How profitable is the launch of commercial satellites? Consider this - in 2007 Arianespace had a turnover of $1.28 billion USD and is only expected to increase for the year 2008.

In spite of ESA, member European nations have made use of Indian facilities for the launch of their satellites, most notably the Italian Agile which was also India’s first commercial launch, performed specifically to launch the 350+kg Italian satellite. Besides the fact these were lightweight experimental satellites, the principal reason for this has been the extreme value-for money offered by launching them from India.

With India gaining similar capabilities as that of Arianespace, it should be in a position to offer their services at a fraction of the cost (1/12th the cost, according to some estimates) and still make it an extremely profitable venture.

Projects like, the Chandrayaan mission also serve to act as a confidence-building exercise among the other potential customer countries who might then consider entrusting us with the launch of their satellites.

A self-sufficient ISRO, contributing to to the national coffers, would thus contribute to the  socio-economic developmental efforts of the country. This venture termed frivolous and waste of public funds would generate the fund in proportions not matched by any other sector.


Ignited minds

An argument, considered blasphemy, especially if you are a red-flag waving communist hoodlum - An active Space program and other allied high Technology R&D ventures are the fuel to inspire the countries Scientists and Engineers to stay back and work for the country’s cause.

As Engineers and Scientists, yearning for a challenge, that pushes the boundaries of intelligence and expand this boundary in an effort to find that one path-breaking solution that paves the way for grand ventures, is extremely high.

An environment that lets these individuals lets their minds run free, unconstrained by factors of economics and earthly issues [pun intended ;)] is encourages them to stay put in that environment. The outcome of such free-runs often result into a development that benefits the whole community in a manner not envisaged at the time of development.

It is now pretty much part of urban folklore how extremely lightweight but much stronger composite materials developed for making the nose cones of warheads of missile developed under IGMDP are now being used to make prosthetic limbs [pdf]  that are much easier to use.

It is estimated that more than 90% of projects sanctioned by DARPA never leave the laboratory. Their results, however are made use of to solve a wide variety of real-world problems.

India similarly had initiated ‘Project Devil’ to achieve similar ends of challenging and galvanizing its Scientists and Engineers for future programs. It was the precursor to the IGMDP which resulted in the successful development of 4 of the 5 missile proposed.

Even if we are to assume that the Moon missions by India have no Scientific value [a totally flawed assumption], it must be remembered that the Chandrayaan-1 mission cost India just $85.7 million USD in 2008. Compare that with the $440 million USD that Microsoft paid for acquiring Hotmail in 1997 and it should put things into perspective as to how cost-effective India’s space program is. Is it such a huge amount to help create an environment of challenge and encouragement for our Nation-builders?

The point being made is that Scientists and Engineers form the backbone of progress of a nation. A nation that nurtures and encourages its Engineers and Scientists is destined to be on a path of success and advancement. The offshoots of the pursuits of such program will find ways of benefiting each and every strata of society.


Employment opportunities and ancillary Industries

The number of Scientists and Engineers currently employed with ISRO would need to be increased as our Space program develops. This would provide for attractive employment opportunities to the large number of Engineers graduating from our Universities every year in India. The opportunity to work in advanced technology programs would also help bring more and more bright and talented individuals into the National fold. This increased pool of talented individuals working within the country should only help further the National cause.

A fledging space program in the country acts as the catalyst for setting up ancillary privately-owned industries in the country. It would also serve as an opportunity for individuals to become entrepreneurs serving this industry. These industries would act as feeders for supplying our program with the much needed sub-systems needed to accomplish their stated missions. Such industries would provide for additional employment for highly skilled Engineers and Scientists in order to keep up with the demands of the program.

A well-developed industrial base would help promote trade and export [within the framework of legality] to countries with countries having their Space Program in its initial stages. Through Antrix Corporation, India does offer technical assistance to such countries. The quantum of assistance and revenue generated from it would only increase further as our own expertise increases. Our Moon mission serves as an ideal platform to demonstrate our expertise in this field and furthering our avenues of revenue generation.

ISRO currently faces a severe problem of attrition and inadequate manpower to sustain the already approved programs. Programs like the Chandrayaan mission would only help attract and inspire more people to consider working with our National institutes of R&D.


But Why now?!

An argument that is often echoed – What is need to allocate resources now when the problems it would be expected to solve would not be upon us for the next 70-100 years from now?

The answer lies in the fact that that such Technologically challenging programs have extremely long gestation period. This problem becomes even more acerbating in a country like India where the private sector is still not developed enough to provide the assistance or infrastructure needed for such programs. So these Government organization often first have to build up such supporting infrastructure themselves before they can proceed with the actual program [case in point – Lockheed Martin sources its primary Engine for the F-35 JSF from Pratt & Whitney, a privately-owned company. India had to setup the government-funded GTRE for developing the Kaveri Engine for the LCA program]. Such need for infrastructure building further delays the process of the work on the actual program.

Having said this, developing sustainable, fool-proof Space capabilities is challenging even without the hindrances mentioned above. The already complicated process of leaving the Earth’s atmosphere is increased manifold when a human is expected to be on board the craft. Developing the life-support system for such mission, for example, is a challenge that vexes even the most advanced of Space Nations even now with their strong foundation of Science of Technology. Taking this view in to account, India whose Space program is just crossed the lines of infancy is progressing extremely well with its own Space Program [a not-so-accurate-but-good-for-argument comparison – USA sent its first mission to the moon 183 years after gaining independence. India sent its own mission 62 years after its independence].

The technology that needs to be mastered to sustain life in outer space would need repeated testing and validation for fool-proofing which can only be done over a period of time and building up of the necessary infrastructure to do so.

Such complex programs that involves interplay of various allied and complementary branches of Science and Technology are also expected to face stiff challenges, overcoming which would need would need time and resources. Allocating time and resources from now will have us prepared and ready when the time come in the future.

Doing so from now would also give us the expertise and credibility to guide and help other nations who would also venture into similar programs of their own. This helping and offering guidance is also an opportunity to generate large amount of revenue for the country that could then be utilized for social welfare programs.


Everything gifted by the Russians

Yet another accusation leveled against our space program – we have got everything on a platter from the Russians and are simply using old-defunct Russian technology.

It is true that we have learnt and mastered a lot of our Technology from the Russians and continue to take help from the Technology and facilities for our program. But this relation with the Russian should not be viewed any differently from how one may view the relation between a student and teacher. Russian with their long history of space program has a lot to teach us as we would to the other countries having a newer program than ours. The Norte Americanos, secretly dismantled in complete German space program facilities and smuggled them into the American mainland and gave amnesty to German scientists who were part of the Nazi War machinery as part of Operation Paperclip. In return these scientists were asked to further America’s own Space program which was yet to pick off. Why are no such allegations being leveled against them? Are they not a more appropriate candidate for these charges?

As for leveling charges that we are using of Russian technology for our space program and passing it off as ours, it stems from the fact that we use Russian-made Cryogenic Engines for the final stage of out satellite launch vehicles. Considering the [small] size of the fourth stage of the vehicle, developing an fully-functional indigenous engine that can be fitted in the space is challenging and developmental work is being carried out at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC). The prototypes engine has also been test-fired successfully and would need more tests and validations before it can be incorporated into the launch vehicle [the engines were run for around 480 seconds whereas the final stage needs to burn for around 700 seconds].

For developing a Technologically strong country it is necessary that we do not shirk from investing in a high-technology Space program. It will reap benefits as time progresses and its benefits will percolate to each and every sector of our Society. Let us not be clouded by myopia, when commenting or passing judgement about the awesomeness emerging out of the Government laboratories. Our country needs an advanced Space program, which is being provided to us by our government labs. The Engineers and scientists working there deserve every bit of resources and respect entitled to them and lot more.


Technorati Tags: ,,,