India’s space agency wants to build a space station


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The decline begins: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday advocated that his country build its own space station.

The spacesuit is ready. A survival capsule is on the way. ISRO has everything to send astronauts into space and develop a space station, all that’s left is for the government to give the money and policy clearance, said ISRO chief AS Kiran Kumar here on Monday. “We have the capability to create a space station, but you (government) have to give us the money and time to make this happen,” Kumar told reporters on the sidelines of 34th foundation day celebration of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT). “If the government and country decides… we are ready. You need to provide us funding, policy clearance,” he said, adding that space mission is low priority for the government “because one doesn’t see any immediate use of this in country’s development and growth”.

Kumar’s comments came in the backdrop of Chinese media reacting to ISRO’s recent record launch of 104 satellites at one go. An editorial in a Chinese newspaper pointed out that “there is no Indian astronaut in space and the country’s plan to establish a space station has not started”. [emphasis mine]

Rather than focus on development that could increase India’s competitiveness in the profitable launch market, such as improving its rockets either by making them reusable or able to launch more frequently, Kumar instead wants to spend his government’s money and build a space station. He doesn’t really outline what he intends to accomplish with this station, other than demonstrate that India can match China. His focus instead is creating an infrastructure for pork and jobs for ISRO. The station will not bring in profits, which would be more useful to the country and its nascent private space industry.

This is what government agencies routinely do. They might start out functioning like an innovative private company trying to attract customers, but the lure of coerced government money always takes precedence in the end, and the agency shifts its focus to building pork-laden empires funded by tax dollars.

3 comments

  • Edward

    I’m less concerned that this is a waste, as long as they think that they are improving on the space station concept as currently built, but it they are just reinventing the wheel, then they would be better off buying a Bigelow habitat or an Orbital ATK Cygnus habitat version (proposed: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/03-Walz_Cygnus_Beyond_Low-Earth_Orbit.pdf page 12+ ) in order to save development costs. To this enclosure, they can add the interior and science at significantly lower cost than designing their own enclosure.

    From the article: “they are also working on RLV-TD (reusable space launch vehicle or space shuttle) and air breathing propulsion.

    These seem to be worthwhile innovations for them to work on. An air breathing, reusable first stage could make launch to orbit much less expensive than even the Falcon series, keeping India on the forefront of the competition.

    It would be even better if India’s industry were to work on these in a free market environment. However, their industry may have the same problem that US industry has/had: competition with their own government’s space agency.

  • D.K. Williams

    Begs the question of whether the ISS has a legitimate purpose either.

  • Edward

    D.K. Williams,
    I think that the purpose of the ISS is legitimate, but the cost is higher than I think was necessary.

    We have learned and are learning many lessons in the construction and operation of space stations, and we are learning a lot from the experiments that are performed on orbit. However, if we amortize the costs of just the experiments alone over the cost of construction and operation (excluding the value of the lessons learned of the station itself), each experiment performed to date has cost tens of millions of dollars.

    I believe that had the construction cost of the ISS been as low as a Bigelow or Orbital habitat, the same experiments could each have been performed for a cost in the million-dollar range. I do not think that the other lessons learned are worth the additional cost.

    I think that NASA went overboard with the notion of “me too” when they decided to build a space station that was larger than the Soviets’ MIR. Then things just got out of control when presidents and Congress decided to spread the cost around by inviting other countries to make an “international” space station. That resulted in more cost, not less, to the US.

    Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men look like they were made by the mice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *