NEW DELHI: Sweat it out, aim for the moon, and you’ll end up a star, says India’s space chief. The country’s first lunar astronaut needn’t be a rocket scientist or a pilot, but anyone who is “young, physically active, healthy, and with a terrific spirit of adventure”, according to G Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). “The shortlisting of the candidate will start three years prior to the mission,” Mr Nair told ET in an exclusive chat about Isro’s Mission 2015, the space agency's ambitious manned mission to the moon.Enough time for aspirants to build up endurance and work on those biceps. With Chandrayaan-1 firmly in lunar orbit and Isro’s successful launch of multiple satellites — 10 in one go — early this year, completing a great year of launches, the national space agency is now looking at bigger missions, he said. With its established credentials as a provider of low-cost access to space, Bangalore-based ISRO also sees itself in a unique position to get into the business of launching satellites for other countries, apart from developing an array of rocket components and satellite sub-systems for global customers, a $10-billion opportunity globally. Besides its own missions in 2009, ISRO will be launching satellites for Singapore, Italy, Algeria and a clutch of so called nano-satellites for the Netherlands on its proven Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). To play a bigger role in space activities, ISRO is hiring more people and expanding its infrastructure while its commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, is targeting a revenue of Rs 1,000 crore next year. Much of this will come from services like providing Global Positioning System (GPS) applications, direct-to-home (DTH) TV services, telecom, launch of satellites and development of rocket sub-systems.Over the next few years, ISRO will also be focusing on emerging as a bigger player in the space mission launch market. The area it has an edge over other countries is in its capability to do low-cost launches and development of control and propulsion systems. Last week, ISRO for the first time designed and built a satellite — W2M — for Eutelsat, the European satellite operator, at a cost of $80 million.
“It’s a $130-billion global market with 80% being accounted for by services and $10 billion being spent on satellites and launch vehicle systems. With our successful launches this year, we have built market credibility and demonstrated reliability. The more successful launches we do (with bigger and heavier satellites), the bigger market share we will get,” said KR Sridhara Murthi, managing director, Antrix Corporation.The W2M satellite, at 3.46 tonnes, is the heaviest built by ISRO so far and the space agency made a profit of $40 million on it. India's Department of Space — ISRO is the largest organisation under it — has a manpower of 16,000 out of which 11,000 are scientists and engineers. ISRO will be hiring 300 scientists next year, Mr Nair said. “High bandwidth satellites capable of micro-wave imaging and new exploratory missions are much sought after worldwide. However much depends on investment in infrastructure and HR,” he said on the sidelines of CII's felicitation of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 team. As more countries seek to put satellites for applications spanning DTH, GPS, telecom and education, ISRO’s launch services — which cost 60-70% cheaper than costs of similar services by western nations — could also help boost India's own commercial space programme.