A lack of coordination between the Department of Space (DoS) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) led to the underutilisation of the GSAT-6 satellite, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report released December 23, 2022.

The communication GSAT-6 satellite was launched in 2015 at a cost of Rs 508 crore. It was designed to provide communication through the S-band and a national beam in the C-band for strategic users, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The S and C bands are part of the microwave spectrum, which includes frequencies ranging from 1 gigahertz to over 100 GHz.

GSAT-6 was expected to last for 12 years from 2015. But it was left unused for half its lifetime, the report pointed out.

“GSAT-6 had two main components: Space segment and ground segment. Under the revised utilisation plan, it was proposed to utilise the space segment capacity for meeting the communication needs of the strategic and societal sectors,” the report read.

DOS was responsible for realising and launching the satellite, while DRDO was responsible for the ground segment.

As per the approved revised utilisation plan, satellite development would cost the DOS Rs 235 crore and development of the ground segment would cost DRDO Rs 63 crore.

The satellite was expected to be launched in the second quarter of 2014. The reasons for the delay in take-off are unknown, the report underlined.

Further, DOS did not sign a memorandum of understanding or an agreement with DRDO to develop the ground segment for processing satellite data.

“It also failed to devise a target-based action plan in consultation with DRDO. As a result, DRDO was not able to complete the activities of the ground segment before the launch of the satellite,” it added.

The report pointed out a list of delays in developing the ground segment. DRDO tasked its unit, Defence Electronics Application Laboratory, with two projects. These were awarded in January 2013 and January 2013.

The first project required the development of an S-band hub and satellite communication terminals. But it was completed only in January 2018, delayed by two years.

The second project involved developing a dedicated hub for providing services to civil society agencies and strategic users. It suffered delays too, reaching its completion five years later in July 2020.

Costs climbed as a result. “An expenditure of Rs 40.17 crore was incurred in the Phase I of the ground segment,” the report read.

The present status of Phase 2 (operational phase) is unknown to the DoS, it showed.

“Therefore, the objective of the GSAT-6 satellite, which was launched in August 2015 after incurring an expenditure of Rs 508 crore, was not fulfilled due to non-completion of the activities to be carried out underground segment as the satellite has remained unutilised since its launch,” it read.

CAG said a lack of coordination was responsible. In March 2021, DOS stated that it had verified and cleared the ground station for operationalisation by November 2015.

However, DOS acknowledged that it did not know the present status of how the ground station was being utilised and operated.

“The satellite has remained largely unutilised since its launch. This is particularly significant as half of the operational life of the satellite has already been spent idle,” CAG pointed out.