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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Satellite launch success

But where's the new sports bra?
Indis's satellite launch capability has come to be taken for granted by the public at large to an extent where one more successful launch fails to excite. Excitement is not the point, however.

It’s time for Indians to move on from celebration of belonging to a tiny, elite club of nations that can fabricate and launch their own, and others’, satellites to optimal utilisation of not just the data captured by the satellites but also the technological advances made by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

A successful satellite launch brings together diverse capabilities in material sciences, communications, signalling, microelectronics, fuels, aerodynamics, computing, data management and project management. All these capabilities are eminently qualified for being put to use by industry in non-space areas of activity.

The Antrix Corp, Isro’s commercial wing, offers some of these capabilities to industry. But the bulk of the corporation’s Rs 900-crore revenue comes from core activities such as launch of satellites and lease of transponders.

Commercialisation of Isro’s technology is yet to achieve a respectable fraction of the potential. This must change. And for that, there has to be greater effort both by the space agency and by Indian industry.
From CAT scans and ultrasounds to quartz timekeepers and sports bras, from flat panel television to trash compactors, a whole range of things that we do not commonly associate with space missions owe their origins, in fact, to space research. Commercialisation of technology is not a function that technologists are necessarily good at.

It calls for not just marketing skills on the part of the agency that creates the technology but also an ecosystem that brings together risk-taking entrepreneurship and a financial system that can mediate a slice of the collective pool of savings to commercial experimentation with new technology.

Fast-growing India needs to create such an ecosystem, to fully tap the fruits of the research that send launch vehicles and their payloads soaring into the sky and beyond. And the responsibility for that cannot be dumped on our space scientists.

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