Budget 2021

Space: Budget cues what’s coming up

M. Ramesh | Updated on: Feb 01, 2021
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NewSpace India has been given ₹700 crore as capital to develop market for SSLV

The Budget 2021-22 has three pointers about the immediate future of the Indian space sector.

First, the new company, NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), formed in 2019, has been given ₹700 crore as capital, compared with ₹10 crore last year.

NSIL is meant to “spearhead commercialisation of various space products, including productionization of launch vehicles, transfer of technologies and marketing of space products,” according to a footnote in the expenditure budget. What it means is, NSIL will interface with those who want to launch satellites and those who build rockets for launching them, both ISRO and private players. NSIL is also likely to have a role in developing a market for ISRO’s proposed ‘small satellite launch vehicle’ (SSLV) – in the last few years, there has emerged globally a huge market for launching small and ultra-small satellites, which cannot wait until there is space in the large rockets to hitch-hike a ride. Hence, SSLV.

“With the allocation of ₹700 crore, NSIL seems to be taking off,” says Chaitanya Giri, a space expert with Gateway House, who has worked on comet landing.

The second point that emerges from the budget is that the space sector still gets priority. The allocation to Space in this budget is ₹13,949 crore, roughly the same as ₹13,479 crore in last year’s budget. However, the Department of Space could not spend—presumably due to the pandemic. The revised estimate for 2020-21 is pegged at ₹9,500 crore. Space experts, such as Giri, note with satisfaction that the government has “not de-prioritized” space.

That brings in the third point, which is where the priority lies. Gaganyaan has been mentioned in the budget, but Chandrayaan-3 has not. Gaganyaan has been promised by the Prime Minister, and hence it seems to get more attention than Chandrayaan-3. Notably, both the missions would use the GSLV Mk-III rocket—experts don’t see ISRO producing two of them in the same year.

The first of the two proposed uncrewed Gaganyaan missions is likely to happen this year, so that India is not left too behind China in manned space flights.

Published on February 02, 2021

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