by Girish Linganna

As Finance Minister presents her interim budget for 2024-25 on February 1 this year, she has to keep in mind that this year promises to be a watershed year for India’s space exploration! The year, 2024, has been marked as ‘The Year of Gaganyaan’ by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief S Somanath, who elaborated on the Gaganyaan timeline.

At this critical juncture in the planning and implementation of this historic space project, ISRO has scheduled important mission-related tests and demonstrations throughout the entire year. The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR), a collaborative effort between NASA and ISRO, is also scheduled for launch in 2024.

Besides NISAR, ISRO has many other ambitious projects lined up. A communications satellite in the Indian National Satellite System series, INSAT-3DS, is a key to meteorology and disaster management studies. Enhancing India’s remote-sensing capabilities, RISAT-1B and Resourcesat-3 are work-in-progress. TDS01 and SPADEX are also expected to contribute to technological research and experiments for Moon missions.

Union Minister for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh has gone on record, saying that the Indian space sector was projected to grow at a rate of 6%-8% over the ensuing year. This year, the stakeholders in India’s space sector will keep a sharp watch on the Budget outlay for the space sector, which stood at Rs 12,543.91 crore in the Budget estimates for 2023-2024 as a cumulative allocation made for the Department of Space (DoS)—the government watchdog for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), New Space India Limited (NSIL) and Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which have provided a platform for greater private sector participation.

Singh had said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha at end-December 2023 that the Budget allocation for the DoS had doubled in 2023-2024 (Rs 12,543.91 crore) compared to that in 2013-2014 (Rs 6,972 crore). Also, the revenue garnered from satellite launches from 2003 to 2013, which stood at only $15 million, had grown to $157 million from 2014 to 2023 with 396 foreign satellites and 70 domestic satellites launched. The satellite services segment is estimated to account for 36% of India’s space economy by 2025, with the ground segment accounting for 31%, the satellite manufacturing segment 25% and the launch services segment 8.15%.

The lion’s share of the total allocation of Rs 12,543.91 crore, an amount of approximately Rs 11,669.41 crore, was listed for central sector schemes and projects—including the human spaceflight centre and various institutions within DoS handling launch vehicle and satellite projects—covering both development and operations.

However, there was a slight reduction of nearly 8% in the fiscal 2023-2024 Budget, compared to the Rs 13,700 crore for fiscal 2022-2023, witnessing a 32% reduction in the allocation for space science—including Chandrayaan-3, Aditya L-1 and ISRO’s Climate and Atmospheric Programme—compared to the previous Budget estimate.

This even gave the Opposition to troll Prime Minister Narendra Modi while he congratulated Somanath and the ISRO team for the very successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon’s south polar region!

India’s space economy is now valued at about $8.4 billion—a share of 2%-3% of the global space economy. Riding piggyback on the twin contributions of the private space sector and the Indian Space Policy (ISP), 2023, the Indian space economy is estimated to be valued at $44 billion by 2033, Singh further said. The ISP encourages end-to-end space solutions encompassing satellite manufacturing, launch vehicle production, satellite services and ground system manufacturing, although the ‘Space Policy’ unveiled by the Centre focuses mostly on satellite launches and associated infrastructure.

With more involvement from the private sector and a start-up ecosystem, India’s space sector stakeholders have called for exemptions from Customs duty—sometimes as high as 40%, resulting in budget constraints—levied on mission-critical materials, components, subsystems and creation of specialized funds to address R&D needs in the interim Budget 2024-2025.

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defence at Frontier India