India and the US have called for more private investment in satellite and rocket launches to make the space sector commercially viable and drive future space missions to the moon and Mars.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), US space agency, spends close to 10% of the $190 billion (Rs7.56 trillion) global space industry each year, but has called for increasing spend by the private industry. India’s budget for the five years to 2012 is around Rs45,000 crore.
“The only chance for a truly economical space transportation would come about from the space tourism industry,” said Michael Griffin, head of the US space agency, at the International Space Conference being held in the city.
Nasa was helping commercial entities in the US build a business model to offer orbital transportation services, he said. “It is the economics that we should see rather than benefits of international cooperation,” said Griffin.
Several initiatives including Nasa-funded projects such as California-based Space Exploration Technologies and Rocketplane-Kistler of Oklahoma City, have begun to develop and demonstrate the vehicles, systems and operations needed to support a human facility such as International Space Station.
Virgin Atlantic, owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, has invested in building space ships for taking tourists to space. India’s minister of state for space Prithviraj Chavan said though the government will be the main investor in many branches, suitable models for public-private investments needed to be evolved. “In the post Cold War era, the commercial aspect of space sector is fast growing,” he added.
Analysts say investments in space cannot be purely commercial as private industries weigh the risks before putting money in projects. They cite the lack of progress in Galileo, the European Union’s satellite navigation system, which costs around €2.4 billion (Rs13,488 crore), and from which a consortium of private companies backed out in June fearing low returns. India has called for a better international policy and regulatory environment for commercial space activities in technology flow, market access and regulations. Currently, the US rules prohibit launch of satellites with American-built components by a third nation.
With the aim of bringing down costs of satellite telephony and enable mobile access to remote parts of the country, India will launch a communication satellite in three years.
The Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) is finalizing the design of GSAT-6, the experimental satellite to be fired by the homegrown geo-stationary launch vehicle rocket by 2010. “The user should be able to access a regular GSM phone and where the signals are not there, automatically switch to the satellite,” said N. Bhaskara Narayana, Isro’s scientific secretary.