Sunday, September 28, 2014

India Mars Orbiter: Red Planet triumph, but at home red tape binds space firms

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 was, 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 was 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,” Vaidya told Reuters, shortly after news broke on Wednesday that Mangalyaan, Hindi for “Mars craft”, had entered into orbit around the Red Planet about 10 months after launching.

“How many Mars missions are you going to have?”

India’s successful mission, completed on a shoestring budget of $74 million, has boosted its prestige in the global space race and, back on Earth, 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 program. The government has increased funding for space research by 50 percent to almost $1 billion this financial year.

But the program 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.

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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.

Read the full article here

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