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Isro propels India Inc's space ambitions

November 06, 2013 09:31 IST

Isro propels India Inc's space ambitions

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Aneesh Phadnis & Praveen Bose in Mumbai/Bangalore

A symbol of self-reliance, India's space endeavours are a model for public-private partnership

When India’s Mars orbiter mission (MOM) lifted off from Sriharikota at 2.38 pm on Tuesday, it was a moment of joy for Jayant Patil and his colleagues at Larsen & Toubro (L&T). Patil heads the defence and aerospace business unit at L&T, which has been involved in India’s space programme for three decades.

“Three middle segments of the rocket used in the Mars mission have been manufactured by us. Along with other partners, we played a large role in building and installing the 32-metre-diameter antenna for deep-space tracking.

We have built the large mono pulse-tracking radar installed at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It has a range of 4,000 km, with high resolution, and is used to track satellites. We are in discussions with Isro (Indian Sopace Research Organisation) to further expand the scope of cooperation.

Currently, we are working on segments for GSLV-Mark 3 rockets. The rocket would be capable of launching 4.5-tonne payloads. Discussions are also underway to manufacture reusable launch vehicles,” said M V Kotwal, director and president (heavy engineering), L&T.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Larsen & Toubro

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He added, “Apart from wide-ranging capabilities for the manufacture of both metallic and non-metallic components, through our involvement in technology-intensive projects for Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Defence Research and Development Organisation, we have developed capabilities in system design and engineering, integration and project management.

We look forward to a much larger role in the future for Isro, akin to that played by Lockheed Martin for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)…So far, we have handled orders worth about Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) from Isro. While this volume of business is low in monetary terms, as more projects come up and our role enlarges, we expect the volume to increase substantially in the coming years.”

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Image: NTPC's power plant.
Photographs: Courtesy, NTPC

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A symbol of self-reliance, India’s space endeavours are also a model for public-private partnership, with the industry providing as much as 80 per cent of the components and parts for the polar satellite launch vehicle.

About 500 companies of all sizes work with Isro to manufacture components for its rockets and launch vehicles. So far, the role of private companies is restricted to the supply of components, but Isro Chairman K Radhakrishnan is batting for a wider role for the industry. The organisation is considering handing over assembly and integration of entire vehicles to select industries.

Another company with a long-standing association with Isro is Pune-based Walchandnagar Industries. Godrej & Boyce, too, has been making components for satellites and liquid propulsion engines of launch vehicles.

“We have been associated with Isro since 1973. We have manufactured rocket motor casings and nozzles for the Mars mission,” said G K Pillai, chief executive of Walchandnagar Industries.

“We have a separate aerospace business division responsible for the design, engineering and manufacture of equipment for the space sector. This has about 150 workmen, 50 engineers and world-class manufacturing and testing facilities. Due to an embargo, technology from developed countries was not available; through the past four decades, we have developed various manufacturing technologies and invested in relevant facilities,” Pillai added.

Godrej & Boyce did not respond to an email query.

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Image: Another company with a long-standing association with Isro is Pune-based Walchandnagar Industries.
Photographs: Courtesy, Walchandnagar Industries

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“Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) delivered seven types of riveted structural assemblies and four types of welded propellant tankages for the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C25),” said HAL Chairman R K Tyagi. The company had also delivered a bare satellite structure and a deck panel to Isro, he added.

Nidhi Goyal, director, Deloitte India, said, “One of the thrust areas in the 12th five-year Plan is setting up space technology parks for increased participation by the private industry. This is an important step towards maximising self-reliance in the country’s space sector.”

L&T’s Kotwal said, “Since the sizes of components used in launch vehicles or rockets are not very large, transportation is not a major problem. As such, Isro’s plans need not await the completion and operation of space parks.”

Overall, 58 space missions have been planned for the 12th Plan period–33 satellite missions and 25 launch vehicle missions. The Plan outlay for these missions stands at Rs 39,750 crore (Rs 397.5 billion), while non-Plan outlay is Rs 7,500 crore (Rs 75 billion). To develop satellites, Isro is also tapping foreign markets. This could add to project portfolios of Indian companies.


Image: Hindustan Aeronautics' Museum.
Photographs: Courtesy, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd

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