From deals to launches, a power-packed year for India's space foray
New Delhi: With the launch of 25 satellites, ISRO had a power-packed 2015 while the atomic energy arena witnessed addressing of several crucial issues, including civil liability, which were hampering the sector's growth besides signing of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan.
The year also witnessed two new secretaries -- Sekhar Basu of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and A S Kirankumar Department of Space (DoS) -- taking charge.
ISRO's satellites included two communication ones -- GSAT 6 and GSAT 7 -- and IRNSS-1D, the fourth of the seven satellites constituting the space segment of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System.
IRNSS-1A, 1B and 1C, the first three satellites of the constellation, were successfully launched earlier. India also launched ASTROSAT satellite, its first space research observatory, something which only the US, Russia, the EU and Japan has.
But more striking was ISRO's achievement of launching foreign satellites. This year, India's space arm launched six Singaporean satellites, four from the US, five from the UK and one from Canada and Indonesia each. This also heralded a new era for ISRO as India faced an embargo from the US post nuclear test in 1973 and 1997, which hampered its space programme.
Awards & controversies
For its work, including the success of Mars Orbiter Mission, India's first inter-planetary mission, ISRO was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize and Space Pioneer Award by US-based National Space Society.
However, ISRO also had its share of controversies. In September, an international tribunal asked Antrix, ISRO's commercial arm, to pay USD 672 million to Devas in the controversial Antrix-Devas case.
There were complaints about the manner in which the deal was entered into and the way in which it was being operationalised. In 2011, the Centre had annulled the controversial deal between the Antrix Corporation and Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia.
On the other hand, the nuclear sector saw resolution to major impending issues.
Ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to India as Republic Day chief guest of 2015, India addressed the concerns raised by domestic as well as foreign players on the clauses of Civil Liability Nuclear Damages Act 2010. Following this, a Nuclear Insurance Pool was formed and operationalised.
The passage of the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act 1962 in the Winter Session of Parliament for enabling NPCIL to enter into joint ventures with other PSUs, will help expand nuclear energy production in India.
The sector also saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal push to resolve long-standing issues. This included a memorandum of understanding to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan.
During Modi's visit to France, the two countries also signed a pre-engineering agreement between AREVA and NPCIL, in a bid to fast track the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant.
A civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Sri Lanka for peaceful purposes was also signed, paving way to help the SAARC nation by providing technology in areas like nuclear technology.
India also resolved the issue of an alternative site to Russia in Andhra Pradesh for building reactors as against Haripur in West Bengal, which is facing opposition from locals. An agreement between India and Russia was also signed to build Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) units 5 and 6.
India's uranium concerns too were adequately addressed. In 2015, DAE registered record nuclear fuel production.
In a major development, a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Australia was brought into force on November 13 along with the Administrative Arrangement for implementing the agreement. The fuel supply arrangements with Canada, Kazakhstan and Australia will bolster energy security by supporting the expansion of nuclear power in India.
India has also received its first consignment of uranium from Canada while efforts to build Australian uranium is underway. However, some uranium mines belonging to Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), a PSU under DAE that provide raw nuclear fuel, saw closure due to lack of necessary permissions.
Interestingly, with commissioning of another unit of Kudankulam of 1000 MW and 500 MW of Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor in Kalpakkam, the new year will also witness a lot of activity in the nuclear sector. This will augment 1500 MW of more electricity from nuclear. India is also expected to see signing of agreement between US' WestinHouse Co for building six reactors at Chhaya Mithi Virdhi in Gujarat.
In the space sector, apart from launching of scheduled satellites, ISRO is trying to ensure that the SAARC satellite, a gift to the neighbouring countries, is launched in December 2016, as announced by Modi. India is yet to get authorisation letter from countries like Pakistan and Nepal for the project.