India’s premier space agency Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has built a reputation for building homegrown Indian space technologies in a most cost-effective way, so much so that India’s Mars Orbiter Mission craft Mangalyaan costed less than the movie Gravity.
Now, in a latest revelation, ISRO chairman K Sivan said that the Indian space agency is planning to develop world class propulsion technology to ensure cost effective re-usable, recoverable, re-startable and reliable space launches.
Earlier in February this year, Sivan had hinted that like SpaceX, Isro too has been working on reusable technology for quite some years to reduce mission cost. Once fully developed, ISRO’s reusable propulsion technology could be a challenge to SpaceX’s innovative reusable launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket.
In his video message for the annual National Conference on Emerging Trends in Aerospace Technologies (ASET-2018) on future of propulsion at Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) Valiyamala in Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala, ISRO chairman said, “The latest in propulsion including electric, hybrid, cryogenic and nuclear power propulsion system is being developed indigenously at LPSC”. The attempt is to control the engine thrust to explore all landing modes including vertical and soft landing of launch vehicles, so that it can be reused, he added.
LPSC is a research and development centre functioning under Indian Space Research Organisation. The centre is engaged in development of liquid and cryogenic propulsion stages for launch vehicles and auxiliary propulsion systems for both launch vehicles and satellites. Activities related to liquid propulsion stages, cryogenic propulsion stages and control systems for launch vehicles and spacecraft is done at Valiyamala, Thiruvananthapuram.
Inaugurating the two-day conference being organised by Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI) Thiruvananthapuram chapter, eminent propulsion expert and LPSC founder director Dr AE Muthunayagam said the conference coincides with the 30th anniversary of LPSC. “India’s space programme since its humble beginning at Thumba here has matured with world class capabilities. LPSC, since its inception in 1987, has overcome challenges to develop liquid, cryogenic and electric propellants,” he said.
S Somnath, who is the director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, a major space research centre of ISRO, also said that, “Use of light materials and simplifying the technology to ensure soft landing, recovery and reuse of the launch vehicle, thereby ensuring the safety of the crew will be the focus and the future of space travel.”
Coming on to ISRO vs SpaceX debate, SpaceX is currently the undisputed leader when it comes to “Heavy” launches or lifting capabilities. The payload sizes of Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy is well beyond ISRO’s current capabilities.
Although, ISRO’s chairman, in February, had already said that ISRO’s priority is to increase the lifting capability of GSLV Mk III (Isro’s ‘fat boy’ in image on top) from 4 tonnes to 6.5 tonnes. ISRO is increasing the lifting capability so that India’s dependency on the European spaceport, for launching our heavier satellites weighing over 6 tonnes, could be ended.
Additionally, in terms budget size, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX is heavily funded with capital of US$1.9 billion, ISRO has a budget of around US $1.2 billion annually for all its activities, both commercial and scientific.
Moreover, SpaceX is making money from its commercial launches. Just yesterday, SpaceX had launched Bangladesh first satellite Bangabandhu-1, beating India’s ISRO in grabbing the opportunity despite being the next neighbor of Bangladesh.
However, when it comes to making satellites, SpaceX scores a zero because it hasn’t made any yet, and that’s not even their goal.