India's space agency has in its pipeline eight foreign satellites for launch and is scouting to acquire such spacecraft from global sources to expand capacity in the field of communication transponders back home.
"Today, we have eight foreign satellites to be launched. These will be launched over the next two-three years,” said KR Sridhara Murthi, managing director of Antrix Corp—the marketing arm of Bengaluru-headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in a response to PTI.
These are a mix of small and bigger satellites, he said, but declined to elaborate, noting that the space agency is yet to formally ink some of these contracts. But one foreign satellite that is being readied for launch is a 150-kg unit from Algeria, which is slated to be launched by home-grown Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle as a piggyback payload; the launch likely to take place by April next year. Mr Murthi said that ISRO was looking for opportunities to acquire foreign satellites.
In fact, ISRO, along with its global partners, recently (unsuccessfully) bid to acquire a satellite, which was put up for auctioning by a company facing bankruptcy, in the United States. Intelsat won the bid with a price of $210 million. ISRO was ready to shell out $100 million for part of the capacity that it intended to use, Mr Murthi said. ISRO's bold move is a sign of its growing confidence, he said.
ISRO has also started integrating the Hylas spacecraft, a contract it jointly bagged with EADS-Astrium, and it would be delivered to the customer, UK-based Avanti Screenmedia, in June.
Under the contract, EADS-Astrium is the prime contractor in charge of overall programme management and would build the communications payload, while Antrix/ISRO would build the satellite with a lift-off mass of around 2.5 tonnes and power of 3.2KW.
"This year we are producing a very sophisticated high definition television satellite (Hylas)—probably for the first time in the world,” Mr Murthi said. ISRO is looking to further scale up the participation of industries in space projects and is even looking at outsourcing some research and development tasks to them.
"Nearly 400 industries take part in space programmes today,” he said, noting that industries now undertake 70% of work on developing launch vehicles or rockets. "So, when an Indian rocket is a success, it's not merely ISRO which has to take credit, it is also a large number of industries which have to take credit (for the launch),” Mr Murthi said.
In addition, as of March this year, ISRO had transferred 289 technologies to modern industries for commercialisation and provided 270 technical consultancies in different disciplines of space technology.
ISRO endeavours to develop technologies with industries. "In the years to come, even for R&D tasks, ISRO will depend more and more on industries,” Mr Murthi said.
He also spoke about the profitability of the space business. Antix today has an annual revenue of over Rs1,000 crore.
"Each satellite can pay for itself including the cost of launching. If you take a communication satellite, we probably spend about Rs300 crore to launch one satellite. But, typically, this can pay back Rs800 crore to Rs1,000 crore over a period of its life,” he said.
“If we look at the value chain of space activities, if we invest one rupee in space, there is ten rupee business on (the) ground,” Mr Murthi concluded.