Will the increase in fund allocation help the DoS in dealing with funding challenges?

During the interim budget announcement on Feb 1st, 2024, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman  allocated Rs 13,043 crore ( $ 1.63 Billion) for the Department of Space (DoS), which oversees the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other space-related activities. This represents a hike of Rs 500 crore or approximately $62 million, translating into a 4 percent increase from the previous year’s budget estimate of Rs 12,545 crore ($1.56 billion). The Department of Space (DoS) serves as the overarching organization that encompasses various entities, including the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the space sector regulator IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre), as well as affiliated academic and research institutions. 

The increase in funds can be attributed to the successful completion of significant space missions like Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya L1, highlighting India’s commitment to enhancing its space exploration capabilities. Out of the total allocation, approximately 56 percent (Rs 7,313.73 crore) has been specifically designated for space research, emphasizing the government’s focus on advancing scientific inquiry and innovation in space exploration. 

Additionally, the budget introduces a new fund of Rs 1 lakh crore aimed at stimulating private investment in research and development. This initiative is expected to benefit around 200 space startups, showcasing the government’s strategy to foster a robust ecosystem for space entrepreneurship and innovation, ultimately supporting the nation’s aspirations in space technology and exploration. 

Established in 2020 by the Union Cabinet, IN-SPACe serves as a key agency overseeing the space sector. Since its inception, the agency has experienced a 24 percent increase in revenue expenditure. Reflecting this growth, the funding for the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), which regulates India’s space activities, was increased from Rs 60.35 crore in the fiscal year 2023-2024 to Rs 96 crore for 2024-2025. 

But will all this increase help the DoS deal with challenges of funding which many space missions face. Experts feel that much more can be done. “The revenue allocated for space technologies, which encompasses projects such as Gaganyaan and the development of systems for new launch vehicles and spaceflight missions, rose by 27 percent. Despite this, the 8 percent budget increase for space technologies seems misaligned with the ambitious plans for upcoming missions in the Chandrayaan program, including Chandrayaan 4 and the Lunar Polar Exploration mission, as well as the development of a partially reusable launch vehicle. In the previous fiscal year, the Department of Space did not fully utilise its budget for space technologies, falling short by more than Rs 1,500 crore,” space expert Girish Linganna told THE WEEK. 

On another note the  funding for the INSAT satellite systems experienced a significant reduction, with expenditure being cut by half from Rs 531 crore in 2023-2024 to Rs 276 crore in 2024-2025, and capital expenditure decreasing by 60 percent. 

“This reduction comes even as ISRO is gearing up for the launch of the INSAT-3DS meteorological satellite later this month, indicating a shift in budgetary priorities or adjustments within the organization’s broader strategic framework. India has historically faced challenges due to limited space budgets, with its investment in space as a fraction of GDP being relatively low compared to other countries. For instance, the US allocates 0.28 percent of its GDP to space efforts, while Russia dedicates 0.15 percent. This places India as the seventh-highest worldwide, with a 0.04 percent allocation. However, ISRO has gained a reputation for developing cost-efficient solutions like the SSLV rocket, giving India an advantage in the international satellite launch market,” remarked Linganna. 

However interestingly over the  past ten years, India’s space budget has steadily increased from Rs 4,163 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 13,043 crore in 2024-25, representing an average yearly growth rate of 12 percent. 

According to the data published in 2022 by Statista, NASA leads the world in space exploration with a substantial budget of $61.97 billion, making it the top space agency. China’s CNSA closely follows with a budget of $11.94 billion, showcasing their ambition in space missions. Additionally, Japan’s JAXA contributes significantly with $4.90 billion, and Russia’s Roscosmos, despite a smaller budget of $3.42 billion, has a rich history of space exploration. The European Space Agency (ESA) brings together multiple European countries with a budget of $2.60 billion, while Germany’s DLR, supporting ESA missions, has $2.53 billion to advance space and aeronautic technology. Lastly, India’s ISRO has a budget of $1.93 billion, known for its cost-effective and innovative missions. 

The Interim Space Budget for 2024-25 reflects the Indian government’s strategic direction and focus for the space sector, demonstrating its ambitions and acknowledging the obstacles it faces in a competitive global space landscape. “The budget highlights the intent to bolster space technology and infrastructure development and encourages increased involvement from private and non-government entities. However, it also points to deficiencies in funding for space science and research, which are vital for scientific advancement and innovation. Therefore, there is a need for a more inclusive strategy that embraces all facets of space exploration and promotes a synergistic environment for India’s space endeavors,” pointed out Linganna. 

The Indian Space Association has welcomed the increased in fund allocation for the space sector and for technological research. It says that the government’s allocation of the Rs 1 lakh crore corpus in the interim budget 2024 for long-term financing of technological research will be beneficial for startups in the rapidly expanding space sector, providing them with support to innovate and conduct further research across various domains of space technology.