ISRO chief on a mission to cut expenses on launches

Space agency plans to lower the costs of satellites by using miniaturised avionics and advanced electronics, says K. Sivan

January 30, 2018 10:35 pm | Updated 10:38 pm IST - BENGALURU

 K. Sivan, ISRO Chairman

K. Sivan, ISRO Chairman

The Department of Space (DoS) is anticipating an increase in financial outlay in next month’s Budget, even as its new Secretary K. Sivan said the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was working to reduce the cost of its satellite and launch vehicle missions.

Speaking to The Hindu , Dr. Sivan, who formally took charge on January 22 as DoS Secretary and ISRO Chairman, said the space body was trying to lower the cost of satellites by using miniaturised avionics, advanced electronics and the recently tested EPS — electric propulsion system — among others.

Launch vehicles

On the launch vehicles or rockets that put these satellites into space, the use of low-cost, space-grade materials and components can reduce the weight of the rocket and allow it to carry heavier payloads.

With an allocation of ₹9,093 crore last year, Dr. Sivan said, “We definitely would like a larger allocation. More satellites are required, and more launch vehicles to launch them. We also need new facilities to make them. We have to bring the manufacture of launch vehicles to industry and this needs extra money. All this is projected [in the requirement made to the government.]”

However, he stressed that, “We never had any problem with the budget. The problem is in executing [spending] it. In fact we should aim for reducing the total mission cost.”

A medium-sized two-tonne [2,000-kg] communication satellite costs roughly ₹200 crore as also the rocket that puts it in a geostationary orbit in space.

“We are targeting a substantial lowering of cost and attacking it on all sides with available technology. It is difficult to name the percentage of reduction right now,” Dr. Sivan said.

Enhanced GSLV

Among the innovations and value additions being developed is the augmentation of the GSLV Mark II launch vehicle. Dr. Sivan said its lifting capability would soon be enhanced from 2.2 tonnes to 3.3 tonnes. The capability then would go up by 1.5 times and would reflect in its per-kilo cost, which could make it quite competitive to future commercial users in the launchers market.

The first launch of the enhanced GSLV, after necessary tests and confirmations, will be the 3.2-tonne Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, scheduled to be launched in April. It carries the first Indian moon lander and rover.

To reduce the size of the satellite without affecting its efficiency, ISRO has begun experimenting with EPS in place of chemical propulsion. The system was first used in GSAT-9 (South Asia Satellite) in May last year to manage satellite functions in orbit and ISRO officials had then said it reduced fuel cargo to 25%.

Dr. Sivan said the EPS is a promising technology. By bringing this in, a four-tonne satellite can do the job of a six-tonne spacecraft; it will also cost less to launch it. However, its full use in orbit correction is yet to be explored as the satellite will then take six to 12 months to reach its orbit.

He said smaller, cheaper satellites could also be made using miniaturised and low-cost components.

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