Andrew S. Erickson, “India’s Steady Progress in Rockets and Satellites,” in Anthony M. Springer, ed., Proceedings of the Forty-First History Symposium of the International Academy of Astronautics, American Astronautical Society (AAS) History Series, Vol. 38 (San Diego, CA: Univelt, 2012), 359-94.
India’s development into a major economic and technological power is increasingly influencing the international system. India’s civil and military space programs, which have greatly furthered India’s progress in these dimensions, merit detailed historical study in their own right.
From its founding in 1947, independent India has long been determined to develop high technology in numerous fields, including that of aerospace, to safeguard its autonomy and to further its economic and social development. Over the past two decades, Indian rocket development has grown increasingly robust, both in civilian and military areas. Comparatively high rates of technological diffusion and exchange of human capital has meant that experience derived in one program often informs the other, thereby increasing India’s return on its investments. India spent the 1960s and early 1970s establishing a basic space infrastructure. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, India began to construct and operate satellites and launchers.
To safeguard national security and foreign policy autonomy, India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha prioritized the development of nuclear technology. Driven at least partially by nuclear development priorities, India developed a relatively capable missile industry overall by focusing material and human resources and thereby improving institutional information flow and technological absorption. Particularly successful has been the Indigenous Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP), established by Dr. V. S. Arunachalam in 1983 with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s approval.
At the same time, India’s civil space program has followed the humanitarian vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. By thus developing practical technologies to serve national development, New Delhi’s space program has retained popular support while achieving particular competence in remote sensing, communications, and weather forecasting to improve land use, mitigate damage from natural disasters, and to further rural education, telemedicine, and poverty reduction.
This chapter will review Indian rocket and satellite development to date and contrast it with India’s aircraft development, in order to better understand the prioritization of national goals and how so much has been achieved amid competing domestic imperatives in the world’s largest democracy. …