Mumbai: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to upgrade a semiconductor fabrication unit on its own after the short-listed vendor International Business Machines Corp (IBM) backed out citing fear of possible military use of the chips designed to guide rockets and satellites.
IBM won the Rs500 crore contract to upgrade the Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL), the country's oldest chip foundry, in 2006, in a bidding that pitted it against another US-based firm, Atmel Corporation.
''In all these projects, the components are all of dual-use technologies (and) many people don't agree that they can part with the technology they have,'' said ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair, adding, ''We are going on our own now. Entire rocket technology and satellite technology we have developed ourselves. We can also develop (on our own) semiconductor technology.''
The chips produced in SCL can also be used in strategic programmes - to guide missiles, or in other defence projects. IBM wants ISRO to guarantee that this does not happen.
IBM is subject to the export control regime of the US, which bars duel-use technology without government authorisation.
IBM's insistence of an end-user agreement comes against the backdrop of an India-born businessman, Parthasarathy Sudarshan, being jailed for selling vintage Intel chips allegedly for India's light combat Tejas programme and rocket programmes.
ISRO, which acquired Chandigarh-based SCL from the ministry of information technology in 2005, plans to upgrade it to produce chips of 0.25 micron size from the current 0.8 micron (micron is one-millionth of a metre).
There are 11 semiconductor fabrication units in India and all of them are government-owned – in the space and defence sectors.
Although the government has announced a semiconductor policy and has offered support to private initiatives, no major investments have taken place in the computer chip space.
Meanwhile, IIT Kanpur has submitted a proposal to ISRO on the design and development of a micro satellite, weighing around seven kg. The micro satellite can be used as part of disaster management and in cartography, IIT Kanpur director S G Dhande said on the sidelines of a conference on 'Smart Materials, Structures and Systems'.
The project was expected to require a funding of around Rs 5-7 crore, he said, adding the proposal has been submitted to ISRO.
ISRO is all set to launch its moon mission – Chandrayaan-I - in September. Chairman Madhavan Nair said the final tests are on to launch the spacecraft.
The Chandrayaan-I will be launched atop India's workhorse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
The spacecraft would be fitted with, among others, a high-resolution stereo camera capable of imaging objects of about 16 feet in diameter, near-infrared and X-ray spectrometers and a laser altimeter to determine the altitude of the lunar craft.