Yesterday, during a session of the Lok Sabha (the Indian parliament’s Lower House), several questions were raised about the budget and revenues of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO’s) launch vehicles.
Budget for the development of launch vehicles
The first question related specifically to the budget for launch vehicles, namely, ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLVs).
To this, Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, replied that the budget for all activities related to both vehicles amount to ₹8658.74 Crores (approximately USD1.4 billion).
This amount was budgeted for 31 launch vehicles in total, comprising 15 PSLVs, 13 GSLVs and 3 GSLV Mk-IIIs, ISRO’s new and heaviest launch vehicle to date. During this Lok Sabha session, Dr Singh did not specify the time period of the budget; it is assumed he was referring to the 2015 budget allocation for the years 2017-2020.
According to Singh, 10 vehicles have been completed so far: 3 PSLVs, 5 GSLVs and 2 GSLV Mk-IIIs, suggesting that ISRO is ready to launch its second cryogenic upper-stage vehicle after the first successful flight of the GSLV Mk-III earlier this year. Of these vehicles, ISRO has launched 3 PSLVs, 1 GSLV, and 1 GSLV Mk-III, with another PSLV launch slated for the end of this month.
The 2015 budget specified the breakdown of the ₹8658.74 Crores, published in a press release by the Indian government. Of the budget, ₹3090 Crores (approximately USD 483 million) would be dedicated to the 15 PSLVs, including all programme elements, software, personnel and campaigns. This amounts to approximately USD32 million per PSLV, translating to USD8420 per kilogram to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), although the actual launch cost of the PSLV is purportedly USD15 million.
Revenues from foreign commercial launches
Singh was also asked about revenues from commercial launches for non-Indian entities, which are handled by ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix Corporation. According to Singh, to date, Antrix has earned a revenue of 21 Million USD and 146 Million Euros in foreign exchange, through launching of 209 foreign satellites from 29 countries.
It is noteworthy that of the 209 foreign satellites, 130 were small satellites (mostly nanosatellites) launched this year aboard the 2 PSLV flights. The first launch in February, which carried 101 foreign satellites, earned Antrix a total of 6.1 million Euros.
Over the years, Antrix has consistently generated profits. Commentators have attributed this to cost-competitiveness and reliability, with ISRO’s PSLV consistently being compared to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in terms of cost. However, because there is a significant gap between the payload capabilities of the two (PSLV: 3,800 kg to LEO, Falcon 9 Full Thrust: 22,800 kg to LEO) this comparison might be neither fair nor accurate.
2020 Onwards: What to expect
During the same Lok Sabha session, Singh mentioned the development of a semi-cryogenic engine for a heavy-lift launch vehicle. According to him, the engine hardware will be qualified by 2019 and flight-ready by 2021, and enable a payload of 5-6 tonnes to the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). Earlier reports have indicated that this engine will be used on a new version of the GSLV, meant to be comparable to the Ariane 5 rocket.