ISRO spends 13 times less than NASA! Frugal India and Giant Leap
The ISRO has bigger plans in the coming years and is likely to give many surprises with increasing its income and enriching the space journey. — Shivaji Sarkar
The Chandrayaan-3 is a testimony that most government departments can effectively function at a far lower cost. The country possibly does not need big ticket projects for constructions and demolitions as rare coveted landing at moon’s south pole exemplifies. The budgeting and costing method needs a review. It can be simpler Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) pattern. The ISRO, one of the premier world organisations, has it simple and frugal. The payload of Mangalyaan in 2013 was about 15 kg while NASA’s Curiosity mars project weighed about a 1000 kg. This explains the cost difference. For studies the concept and reach of equipment matters not the size.
The ISRO has achieved its feat for abysmally low annual budget of $1.93 billion against $25.3 billion of NASA in 2023-24 budget. The White House enhanced it to $27.2 billion. Even the crashed Russian Luna project cost over $190 million against $75 million or Rs 615 crore for Chandrayan3. European Space Agency spends Euro 7.08 billion or $ 9 billion in 2023.
Indeed it is a feat to achieve so much for a cost that is 13 times less than that of NASA. The lion’s share of the NASA’s $8.1 billion, four times more than the total ISRO expenses, is provided for its lunar activities, including sending the Artemis-II mission to the moon next year and sending man to Mars.
In fact, the 2023-24 budget has ISRO allocation at Rs 12543 crore against Rs 13700 crore a year back. It’s a Rs 1093 crore cut on space projects.
The ISRO is not a spender like the highways or urban development. Its Antrix earns an average of Rs 200 crore or $25 million a year from its launches. Besides, it earns from its transponder and other communication services. The department of space (DoS) and its arm NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) earned Rs 2780 crore in 2022-23, up from Rs 929 crore in 2020-21.
It is steadily engaged in providing options to reduce imports by 40 to 50 percent. The ISRO has prioritised homegrown components and technologies over costly imports. It pursues the indigenisation programme for critical components, materials and subsystems with industry participation to reduce import dependence.
Indian highways collect almost 13 times more than its need of Rs 60,000 crore through tolls and cess. It spurts inflation. The collapse of ILFS with Rs 91000 crore dumps testifies mega overspending. The ISRO model reduces costs and inflationary pressure.
The government should review expenses of departments not only under its control but also of the major private sector organisations that sustain on outsourced government work. The recent CAG report on a series of road constructions instead of being justified, need a scrutiny at expenditure escalation beyond the sanctioned bills. The exercise may yield generous funds to reduce national debt burden.
The ISRO’s impressive cost-efficiency in space exploration is strikingly evident when compared to other space agencies worldwide. In 2022, India’s space programme budget ranked seventh globally. Even in lunar missions, Chandrayaan-3’s budget remains notably lower than most others competitors. For instance, Russia’s Luna-25, which tragically crashed on the moon shortly before Chandrayaan-3’s successful mission, reportedly had spent almost four times more.
The ISRO precision achievement at such low cost calls for showcasing of its performance as also study its working pattern as to how it achieves the feat at a budget of Rs 13479 crore in 2020 and Rs 12500 crore in 2023, almost a Rs 1000 crore less. The ISRO earned Rs 1100 crore or $ 94 million in the last five years from the launch of foreign satellites, according to a statement of Minister of State for Space Jitendra Singh in Rajya Sabha on December 16, 2022. It is in addition to its earnings from other communication services.
The ISRO launched 177 foreign satellites through its commercial arms Antrix between January 2018 and November 2022. These satellites were from 19 countries — Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. It has earned $ 223 million or Rs 1830 crore from launching foreign satellite aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV).
The ISRO generates its major share of revenue by the sale of satellite data, leasing the INSAT/ GSAT transponders along with various other services to national and international clientele.
Meanwhile, Antrix had dealings with EADS Astrium, Intelsat, Avanti Group, WorldSpace, Inmarsat, and other space institutions in Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. At present, there are about 1,100 operational satellites orbiting earth while there are about 5-6 PSLV launches every year.
The latest figures include revenue from PSLV and launches aboard the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-MkIII), now renamed as LVM-3) launchers under commercial agreements.
The LVM3, launched 36 OneWeb satellites in a single mission and for the first time an Indian company — Skyroot Aerospace – sent Vikram S, a 545-kg rocket privately-developed rocket into space on November 18, 2022 as part of a mission called ‘Prarambh.’
Antrix’s turnover kept rising over the years. It was Rs. 884 crore in 2009-2010, Rs. 1924 crore in 2015-2016 while its profits have surged from Rs. 108 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 209 crore in 2015-16. ISRO’s earnings from its commercial space missions have been growing continuously.
In 2017, ISRO launched 104 small satellites through a single payload and set a new world record shattering Russia’s record of launching 37 satellites simultaneously.
While the highway system has created a system of tendering and a genre of sub-contracting, creating cartels, ISRO has developed a large ancillary that enriches its products and builds up critical national resource. It ensures competitiveness of the Indian space industry. Its launch services have the most competitive rates.
A dozen industries contributed to the ISRO from L&T, BHEL, Hindustan Aeronautics, National Aeronautics, Keltron, Godrej & Boyce to not so big Walchand, Infinite Technologies, Centum Electronics, MTAR Technologies, Himson Industrial Ceramics, Sri Venkateswara Aerospace to Midhani that provided the alloys for the heat shield of the lander and the wheels of the rover, and Paras Defense and Space Technologies contributed to the navigation system.
The ISRO has bigger plans in the coming years and is likely to give many surprises with increasing its income and enriching the space journey.