The entry of commercial enterprises or other state-owned enterprises can help augment the capacities of Indian space launch vehicle technology
The ISRO has approached the development of the GSLV, especially its cryogenic upper stage with incremental improvements in its payload launch capabilities. The launch vehicle is still in its infancy despite years of investment and its capacity to carry and inject heavier payloads into high earth orbit with consistent success is still a distant goal. One may discount the urgency for developing a GSLV capability when the French-built Arianne heavy-lift rockets to launch the Indian space agency’s larger satellite payloads have served India’s needs well. However, relying on the French heavy space launch vehicle cannot be the outcome in the long term for either India’s defence, civilian and commercial needs nor does it serve the aspirations of India’s premier space agency, which has future unmanned and manned missions to the moon as well as deep space missions.
The greater test for the ISRO’s LVM-3 is to complete more successful launches not just to LEO, but also communications satellites to Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO).
Exploiting the Indian private sector’s dynamism is still at an incipient stage in India. Even if we reject the importance of competition in the domain of launch vehicle development, the ISRO’ development effort with the GSLV has been very slow, especially when compared to the Chinese space programme. After all, even the Long March (LM) family of space launch vehicles is developed and operated by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which is a state-owned enterprise, so why should ISRO be exposed to the competition? Lest we forget within the Chinese launch vehicle programme there is competition too. For instance, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) and the China Academy Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) both vie with each other to produce the LM series of space rockets. Both SAST and CALT are a part of China Aerospace and Science Technology Corporation (CASC), which is the PRC’s primary space contractor. However, despite ISRO also being a state-owned enterprise and the primary developer of space launch vehicle technology for the Indian space programme, it has not managed to match or emulate its Chinese counterpart because it faces no competition from any other state-owned space Research and Development (R&D) or manufacturing entity making its heavy launch vehicle programme open-ended. The glacial development trajectory of heavy launch vehicles by the Indian space agency geared for launching and injecting payloads in the 4-5 tonne category and above into Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO) remains a chink in the space programme. Whereas China with its LM 5 can and has placed in GTO 14,000 kilogramme payloads. The LM 5B has helped the PRC in executing its interplanetary mission Tianwen-1 and its Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission. Beyond the national security and defence imperative, the ISRO’s lunar and Mars missions as well as long-term deep space missions will need powerful rockets making their development all the more urgent.
Private enterprises in the space sector should have a key role to play in augmenting the capacities of Indian space launch vehicle technology.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...Read More +