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  • Writer's pictureFIC Hansraj

Chandrayaan-3: Budgeting for the Stars

"Since economics can be out of this world."

Lunar landings, and... rupees?

In ancient times, our forebearers gazed at the sky and saw a realm filled with undiscovered wonders – catching a glimpse into a grand room of mysteries through a keyhole. Today, that keyhole has broadened into a portal through which we journey to the stars, planets, and beyond. Chandrayaan-3, the third Indian lunar exploration mission under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is one such recent ambitious voyage towards space exploration. But does this venture only unveil space's marvels? Or could the launch, fueled by creativity and space exploration, also be steered by financial mindfulness?

Moon for a Shoestring

To a layman who knows nothing about space travel, one thing is certain - it wasn't cheap. But what if you were told that ISRO managed to achieve it at a cost lower than producing a movie? It sounds a bit absurd, but is it? It turns out, in comparison to what Christopher Nolan spent on making his popular 2014 film ‘Interstellar’, India did hit a space bargain. While Nolan spent nearly $165 million (Rs 1,365 crore, roughly) back when he was working on the iconic film, India only spent $75 million (Rs 620 crore) on its third moon mission, claim reports. The alarming gap between the cost of making the movie and sending a lander to the moon has left many astounded.

Indians are often teased for their budget consciousness. But who would've guessed that this very trait would ultimately spotlight ISRO's incredible efficiency? Among global space agencies, ISRO's impressive cost-efficiency in space exploration stands out. Even in lunar missions, Chandrayaan-3's budget remains notably lower than its counterparts. The Chandrayaan-3 budget is a testament to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) knack for optimizing resources while aiming for the stars. In this surprising financial revelation, the world witnesses the dedication and cost-efficiency of ISRO in its relentless pursuit of exploring the moon, even in the face of extravagant cinematic budgets.

Counting Stars, Saving Rupees

Amid discussions of ISRO's cost efficiency, the question arises: How does it fund its endeavours? The government's budget allocation is a cornerstone, while in 2020, the space sector welcomed private players. The creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) under ISRO lends further support to this collaborative leap.

Let's take a closer look at ISRO's financial framework and what it takes to fuel a successful mission. When a project is proposed, the institutions behind it are expected to leverage their existing infrastructure. ISRO steps in with financial grants to cover fellowships, materials, consumables, internal travel, testing costs, and data expenses.

For instance, imagine a project aiming to develop a new satellite technology. The institution proposing it would use its labs and facilities, while ISRO's financial support would help cover the costs of materials, travel within the country, testing procedures, and data analysis. Moreover, the funds can be allocated for purchasing minor equipment that's essential but not available in-house. For instance, if a research institution lacks a specific piece of equipment crucial for the project's success, ISRO's funding can fill the gap.

In essence, ISRO's financial structure acts as a collaborative booster, nurturing projects by blending existing resources and targeted financial support.

This financial orbit doesn't just end with celestial balance sheets; it takes us on a cosmic journey to explore its impact on the Indian economy.

Launchpad to Prosperity

The successful landing of Chandrayaan 3 on the lunar south pole is a major milestone for India's space program, demonstrating the country's growing scientific and technological capabilities. This achievement can be traced back to the time when the Apollo 11 mission, which landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon on July 20, 1969, became a significant accomplishment for the United States as the first country to achieve this feat, providing a substantial boost to the American economy. Similarly, the successful implementation of Chandrayaan 3 positions India as the first country to achieve this feat, resulting in the creation of new jobs in the space sector, including scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrative staff. This, in turn, will enhance economic activity in related industries such as manufacturing and IT.

While NASA is often viewed as the most successful space organization due to its numerous contributions to the sector, the Indian success story of ISRO will finally bring the recognition and respect that our scientists deserve on a global platform. This exceptional feat will attract increased investment in space research and development by both the government and the private sector. Consequently, this will lead to the development of new technologies that can be utilized to foster international cooperation in space exploration. This, in turn, could result in the sharing of knowledge and technology, benefiting all participating countries.

Telescopes and Tickers

The impact of a country's achievement in a specific sector often triggers a ripple effect, influencing other industries to flourish in its wake. A profound domino effect is anticipated as the mission etches its name onto history's pages. This journey to the moon has the potential to give a significant boost to the aerospace and defence sector. The increased demand for products and services in this realm is likely to translate into greater revenue and profits for companies operating in this domain. Amidst the lunar exploration, the use of robotic technology takes centre stage. This move could spark a surge in demand for robotics technology, benefitting major players like Tech Mahindra and Wipro.

As the entire country rejoiced in this remarkable achievement, the Indian stock market harmoniously joined the celebration, presenting investors with the joyous sight of green candles. Companies like Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Bharat Electronics (BEL), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and Avantel surged, symbolising a reciprocal gift for their invaluable contributions to ISRO, which directly contributed to the triumphant success of Chandrayaan 3.

Space, Finance, and Future Converging

The Sanskrit word for "Moon Craft," exemplifies ISRO's ability to reach for the stars while keeping its feet firmly planted on the ground of financial realism. Amid the accolades for Chandrayaan 3, a vital dialogue emerges—private investments' potential impact. This moonlit success story, woven with ISRO's efficiency and quality, risks reimagining due to increased commercialization.

Consider the analogy of a once-hidden gem now attracting myriad eyes. The question arises: Will the gem remain untainted as the allure of profit shines brighter? The past offers guidance: aviation's exploration metamorphosed into a profit-oriented industry. Could ISRO follow suit? While private investments bring innovation, they tug at ISRO's essence.

The dialogue isn't one-sided; private funding can widen horizons. Yet, the question lingers: how to strike the balance? Chandrayaan 3's journey is an invitation to cherish exploration's spirit while leveraging collaboration's fruits. As we tread the path to the cosmos, may we remember that reaching the moon isn't just about touching the skies but remaining grounded in the values that guide us.

Authors: Sehaz Nagpal and Harsh Agarwal

Illustration: Hemanjot Singh

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