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India: Space
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Character and Structure of the Economy > Science and Technology > Major Research Organizations > Space


The space program had its genesis in the Indian National Committee of Space Research, which was established in 1962 as part of the Department of Atomic Energy. In 1972 the Department of Space and the Space Commission were established as the executive and policy wings of the program. The Department of Space operates the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO, established in 1969) and four independent projects: the Indian National Satellite Space Segment Project, the Natural Resource Management System, the National Remote Sensing Agency, and the Physical Research Laboratory. The department also sponsors research in various academic and research institutions. The ISRO is headquartered in Bangalore and has operating units at twenty-two sites throughout the country that deal with space systems, propulsion, communications, telemetry and tracking, research, launches, and other facets of the space program. The major achievements of the space program have been in the area of the domestic design, production, and launching of remote sensing and communications satellites. The primary goal of the space program is to have independent remote sensing and communications satellite systems with launcher autonomy.

In 1992 the ISRO set up the Antrix Corporation to market space and telecommunications products to help recover some of the costs of the annual space budget. That budget increased from Rs3.8 billion in FY 1990 to an estimated Rs7.5 billion in FY 1994. The majority of the FY 1994 expenditures were slated for rocket development (50 percent) and communications and remote sensing satellite operations (26.8 percent).

Space research began with the establishment of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. From Thumba Indian scientists launched United States-made rockets carrying French satellites to study the upper atmospheric winds over the magnetic equator. From this station, Indian scientists also have carried out original research in electrojet currents over the magnetic equator, vertical profiles of airglow, and cosmic X-ray background radiation. The first Indian experimental satellite was launched in 1975, followed by four others; operational communications and remote sensing satellites have been launched as part of the Indian National Satellite System (Insat). Insat is an interagency project operated by the Department of Space for domestic radio relay, computer network, television, rural telegraph network, and weather, emergency, and other radio communications.

Three satellites operated by Insat were in use in the mid-1990s in cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union's International Telecommunications Satellite (Intelsat) system. The three satellites (the first-generation Insat-1D in June 1990, the second-generation Insat-2A in July 1992, and Insat-2B in July 1993) were indigenously built under the direction of the ISRO and put into geostationary orbit over the Indian Ocean using French rockets launched in French Guiana. Additional and more advanced communications satellites -- Insat-2C, Insat-2D, and Insat-2E -- were planned for launch in FY 1994, FY 1995, and FY 1996.

Although early Indian satellites were launched by the Soviet Union, the United States, and the European Space Agency, in 1980 India began using domestically produced launch vehicles for its Rohini and Stretched Rohini experimental satellites. The ISRO has launch ranges at Thumba, Sriharikota Island on the east coast of Andhra Pradesh, and Balasore in Orissa.

Foreign observers in 1993 believed that the launch vehicle program was the least developed part of the space program and had fallen behind the satellite program in technological capability. Supporting this belief was the September 1993 launch of India's liquid-and-solid-fuel Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), designed to carry a 1,000-kilogram satellite, at Sriharikota. Although the PSLV-D1 was successfully launched, it malfunctioned before reaching orbit. Despite such setbacks, the national goal of achieving launcher autonomy has been set for 2000.

In May 1994, after several failed launches, India's five-stage, solid-fuel Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) program, which started its test phase in 1987, succeeded in deploying a 133-kilogram satellite and placing it in a low earth orbit via a solid-fuel launch vehicle, the ASLV-D4. The ASLV-D4 was launched from Sriharikota. In March 1995, the head of the ISRO announced that India would become self-reliant in launcher technology by 1997-98 when the first Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) flight was planned.

Through international cooperation programs, India also has put a man in space with the Soviet Union, has participated in various French and German space ventures, and has had a payload aboard the United States Space Shuttle. It also provided technical expertise to the Arab Satellite Communication Organization (Arabsat) and entered into a cooperative space research agreement with the Ukrainian National Space Agency.

Indian weather satellites help nations throughout the Indian Ocean littoral by providing weather information and real-time distress alert services. Like the nuclear energy program, the space program has military implications that are contentious international political issues.

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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