Indian Space research organization is a department of the Government of India and has been given the responsibility of carrying out a range of activities related to space. They develop and build rockets for carrying satellites and other spacecraft for scientific research to space. In another important division, ISRO designs, develops and builds satellites and spacecraft for various purposes, which are launched by ISRO themselves or through other space agencies like European space commission or Russian space agency purely on commercial basis. (Which really means that ISRO pays huge amounts to these agencies for launching the satellites.) The development work of ISRO has been quite creditable considering the almost non existent base from which they started. Great pioneering work of scientists like Homi Bhabha and Homi Sethana laid a solid foundation on which further generations of scientists have managed to reach new milestones.
The satellites launched by ISRO, are used for number of applications, starting from land maping, conducting scientific experiments for the scientist community and communications. For communications applications, the satellites work essentially like mirrors, they receive a signal from an entity and retransmit it after boosting its power, back to earth to one or several entities. It is obvious that Satellites are ideal for transmitting radio and TV signals to a large landmass at comparatively very low cost.
My purpose in giving this background information about ISRO is for emphasizing the reality that ISRO is basically a Government department and runs on our i.e. taxpayer’s money. The return, which ISRO was expected to give to the nation in early days, was advancement in space technology and scientific research and above all international prestige. It can not be denied that ISRO had reasonable amount of success. Sometime in the decade of 1970-80, it became technologically possible, to transmit TV signals (Which need a large bandwidth) through Satellites and another window of application opened for ISRO, which had commercial implications straight way. TV broadcasters were willing to pay huge sums to Satellite owners for use of the satellites to retransmit the TV signals. Many Satellites such as ARABSAT and ASIASAT were launched as purely commercial ventures. ISRO jumped into the fray and satellites in the INSAT series were developed. Initially, only Government media used these satellites, but as INSAT series satellites became technologically more and more competent, a new market developed for ISRO.
ISRO being a Government department, was not really well suited for such commercial deals and contracts and Indian Government, thinking on right lines, incorporated a Government owned company called Antrix Corporation for commercial exploitation of space. Besides offering to launch foreign satellites from ISRO vehicles, Antrix Corporation had bandwidth available for sale on ISRO satellites to TV broadcasters of Asia.
A little technical note here,
all electromagnetic waves are part of a spectrum. One end of this spectrum is the low band or medium band radio waves (where our Akashwani radio stations transmit their signals.) The other end of this spectrum is the visible light band and Ultra Violet band. Just below the visible light band, there is a band which is loosely called as Microwaves. In the Microwave band, various sub bands ( Like red, yellow and blue in visible light band) have been know to exist. These are marked as L band, S band, C band etc. Out of these S,C and Ku bands are mostly used for TV broadcasting.
To complete the picture, let us recollect few facts again.
1. ISRO launches rockets and satellites with Government on Tax payer’s money.
2. With considerable effort and expenditure , ISRO maintains the satellites in space and makes the bandwidth available to the user.
3. Antrix Corporation can earn back substantial amounts for the Government or Tax payers by selling bandwidth available on the satellites transponders, to TV broadcasters of Asia.
It is all very simple. However, we have not accounted for one factor, which is prevalent in almost all Government deals in India, the insatiable greed of the persons involved. This greed has created 2G scam, Commonwealth games scam and Mumbai’s Adarsha society scam. I would have expected the scientific community at ISRO at least, to be free from this horrible cancer which is trying to destroy our nation. Unfortunately, some of the scientists at ISRO, proved that they are no different from their brothers in the Government and are the birds of the same flock, as they thought in other ways.
The game plan was simple. Since Antrix Corporation is a Government company, it would not be able to stand the give and take of commercial deals. So, let it sell the bandwidth to a private company, which can then sell it to the actual users.. To start with, only S band transponder bandwidth would be sold to this private distributor.
No one would have disagreed with this plan and suspected that there was any criminal intention here. The plan was simple and would have helped in proper distribution of bandwidth to users very efficiently because a private company would be involved in the distribution, Antrix Corporation would have earned substantial income.
As it turned out later, real motives behind this plan were quite different and criminal.
(To be continued)
5 February 2012