India Reaches Mars, But Space Firms Say at Home, Red Tape Binds Them

India Reaches Mars, But Space Firms Say at Home, Red Tape Binds Them

2nd Official image from Mangalyaan
Source: ISRO

As India celebrated becoming the first Asian nation to reach Mars, S.M. Vaidya, head of business at conglomerate Godrej's aerospace division that made the spacecraft's engine and thruster components, sounded surprisingly downbeat.

The mission is, indeed, a major achievement, he said, and one of which the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) should be proud.

But a single trip to Mars is not enough to sustain a promising yet relatively small industry, he added, and ISRO should be doing more to foster it.

"Unless they fly more, they will not buy more from us. How many Mars missions are you going to have?" Mr Vaidya said, shortly after news broke on Wednesday that Mangalyaan,  India's Mars craft, had entered into orbit around the Red Planet about 10 months after launching.



India's successful mission, completed on a shoestring budget of $74 million, has boosted its prestige in the global space race and raised the profile of Indian companies involved in the project.

But Godrej and some other firms are frustrated at what they say is the slow execution of projects and lack of government support, which are hampering India's efforts to compete with China and Russia as a cheaper option for launching satellites.

ISRO did not reply to questions for this article.

The Mangalyaan was built in 15 months with two-thirds of its parts manufactured by domestic firms such as Godrej & Boyce and India's largest engineering company, Larsen & Toubro .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he wants to expand India's 50-year-old space programme. The government has increased funding for space research by 50 percent to almost $1 billion this financial year.

But the programme is still small, and the small number of launches limits the growth potential of private companies that supply them.
Between 2007 and 2012, ISRO accomplished about half of its planned 60 missions, government data showed. The government cited "development complexity" as the reason for the delay in some missions.

Between 2012 and 2017 the target is 58 missions. The agency has completed 17 missions so far, and ISRO did not say why the number remained low.

Some company executives and experts do not see that changing any time soon, with the absence of heavy rocket launchers, too few launch facilities and bureaucratic delays hampering growth.

"Volumes of business (from ISRO) have been relatively small, of the order of $40 million over the last five years, but the technological fallout in terms of high-precision manufacture has been considerable," said M V Kotwal, president of L&T's heavy engineering division.

India's space programme began in the early 1960s and the country has launched 30 Indian and 40 foreign satellites.

Still, it remains a small player in a global space industry estimated to be worth more than $300 billion a year.

India performs only a handful of launches annually, compared with 20 or more carried out by the United States, Russia and China, according to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a defence ministry think-tank.

ISRO has struggled to develop heavier launchers to put larger payloads into space, which could attract more business from foreign nations and help it compete.

Progress slowed in the 1990s when, under US pressure, Russia refused to transfer cryogenic engine technology to India that could have helped develop a heavier capacity Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

After spending over a decade developing the complex engine, India successfully launched its first GSLV powered with an indigenous cryogenic engine earlier this year.

© Thomson Reuters 2014

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