2011: A year of satisfactory space missions for ISRO
Chennai: Nine satellite launches, a policy for managing remote sensing data and commissioning of the country's fastest supercomputer -- India's space agency can look back at 2011 with a fair sense of satisfaction, though the scrapping of a controversial spectrum deal with a private company remains a blemish on its yearly report card.
During 2011, the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) launched eight satellites using its own rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and one communication satellite GSAT-8 through Ariane 5 from Kourou, French Guiana.
Though launch of two more remote sensing satellites were announced before the year-end, they did not happen.
However, the launch of Indo-French satellite Megha Tropiques to study the tropical weather system made India only the second nation in the world to launch such a space mission.
India's most successful rocket, the PSLV, exceeded a half century of satellite launches when it slung four satellites into orbit in October.
The PSLV rocket has now launched successfully 52 satellites out of 53 it carried -- majorly remote sensing/earth observation satellites both Indian and foreign -- and has been a major revenue earner for ISRO.
The one failure happened in 1993 when the satellite was not able to reach its orbit.
During the year, ISRO also decided on a detailed relook of its heavier rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to carry communication satellites. This followed the loss of two rockets and the satellites in 2010.
In order to augment the transponder capacity of Indian National Satellite (Insat) system, ISRO launched two communication satellites in 2011 - GSAT-8 and GSAT-12.
With these two launches, ISRO-owned transponder capacity went up to 187, while it has leased 86 transponders. It is estimated there is an unmet demand for 170 transponders.
Meanwhile, to increase the frequency of satellite launches and to cash in on the international market for launching remote sensing satellites, ISRO is mulling another space port while beefing up the facilities at the existing launch site in Sriharikota, around 80 km from here.
"A feasibility study on building second space port like the one in Sriharikota will be made during the 12th (Five Year) Plan (2012-17) period. The study will look at the need, economics, safety and other aspects," ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan said.
But the year also saw controversy engulf its deal with Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd.
As per the deal, ISRO's commercial arm Antrix Corporation was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas, which is into multimedia services. Antrix would provide the spectrum by leasing out transponders of two satellites to be built mainly for Devas Multimedia.
But the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimated the loss to the exchequer at an astounding Rs.2 lakh crore ($37 billion) because of the agreement.
The centre later scrapped the controversial deal.
An ISRO official told a news agency that the issue has now gone for arbitration.
The year also saw the formulation of a Remote Sensing Data Policy governing the modalities for managing, permitting acquisition/dissemination of data generated by remote sensing or earth observatory satellites.
In May, ISRO commissioned at Rs.14 crore country's fastest and its second supercomputer at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.
The new machine will be used by Indian space scientists for solving complex problems and studying computational fluid dynamics of ISRO rockets.
The year also saw the first batch of graduates from ISRO's own Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology inducted into service.
Outside of ISRO but in the space sector, 2011 saw students of Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K), Anna University of Chennai and SRM University located near here winning the US space agency NASA's student competition in the foreign category -- the Environmentally Responsible (Green) Aviation College Student Challenge.
Additionally, IIT-K and SRM University launched their small satellites-Jugnu and SRMSAT using the PSLV rocket during the year. City-based Anna University is the first Indian university to have fabricated a satellite -- Anusat -- in 2009.