Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is all set to breach another barrier as it gets ready to launch its first space shuttle this month. While India would become the fifth nation after US, Russia, France and Japan to have built a space shuttle, if successful, the technology will allow for an even more cost-effective mechanism for launching satellites. The RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Development) developed by Isro in five years, at a cost of just R95 crore, is expected to navigate its way back into Bay of Bengal. Though it will take another 10-15 years to develop the technology for commercial use, according to Isro scientists, once perfected, it would bring the cost down by as much as 10 times, to $2,000 per kg. The Indian space agency is also expected to conduct landing and further return-flight experiments. Research on space shuttles has been in process for a long time now, but one of the major obstacles for scientists has been the ability to maintain the temperature inside the shuttle once it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The friction leads to temperatures rising to 5,000-7,000 degree Celsius. But the shuttle would incorporate very lightweight, heat-resistant silica tiles and carbon coating to counteract the heat.
Isro has been at the forefront of technological innovation, having developed software in a much cheaper and cost-effective manner. It launched the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013, for instance, at a cost of $78 million, one-tenth of what the US space agency NASA spent to develop its Mars Mission. Isro recently also completed the launch of its navigation satellites to aid the development of navigation system, IRNSS. The IRNSS, once fully operational, would make India the fifth country with an indigenously-developed navigation system. More than its own achievements, the Indian space agency’s success also demonstrates the ability of government-run enterprises to showcase their effectiveness, if left to manage on their own. DRDO is another example of India’s technological prowess—the defence research organisation has been able to successfully test many missiles, and recently tested a supersonic interceptor missile capable of destroying enemy projectiles. The work done by Aadhaar, the National
Payments Corporation of India, the National Stock Exchange or the National Securities Depository Limited—or even the National Dairy Organisation in Karnal, which was the first to create an IVF buffalo and clone a buffalo—similarly, has been accepted as world-class examples of frugal innovation. Though government-run organisations are typically seen as slothful and slow in implementing and adopting technology, when freed from bureaucratic control, many have has shown themselves to be not only as capable as the private sector, but even better in providing path-breaking innovation and solutions.