New Delhi: As all eyes remain focused on Chandrayaan-2, which is only few days away from attempting a historic touchdown on the moon, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has already set the ball rolling for boosting its commercial activities in space.
The premier space agency is gearing up for the inaugural flight of its indigenously developed Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). The mini-rocket launcher has been specially designed by Indian scientists to carry smaller commercial satellites into the low-earth orbit less than 2,000 kms above the earth’s surface.
“Isro is always chasing a target. The work on SSLV is going on in full steam. We are targeting a December launch for the vehicle,” ISRO chairman K. Sivan said post the entry of Chandrayaan-2, India’s second mission to the moon in the lunar orbit.
Most of the international customer satellites launched by Isro have been through the use of its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). From 1994 to 2015, PSLV has launched as many as 84 satellites of which 51 were for international customers, as per agency.
However, many a times, the tight launch schedule of PSLV and unavailability of the launch vehicle deterred the agency to take up launch of foreign satellites. Most of the private customer satellites, usually nano-satellites were launched as additional payloads during a main PSLV mission.
“This was long awaited. A separate launch vehicle was required to meet this growing demand from the private agencies, including giants like Google and Amazon who want to put their satellites into orbit without waiting much. Since, SSLV is designed for multiple orbital drop-offs, its well-suited to meet these demands,” said Group Captain Ajai Lele (retd), Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.
The mini rocket launcher has a payload capacity of 500 kgs to low earth orbit and can be assembled within days by a smaller team and at a drastically reduced price as compared to PSLV.
ISRO has already demonstrated its skills of launching multiple satellites. In January 2017, it launched a record 104 satellites in orbit in a single rocket.
With the demand for space-based services increasing, Isro also offers advantages as an effective and low-cost option. “Unlike other space agencies, India also has a quick turnaround time, in a way that the agency can return to the launch pad within few months of a successful take off. This serves well for private agencies which do not want to wait longer. Most importantly, it is cost effective” said Lele.
There is geographical advantage as compared to US, Russia and Israel which also have their small satellite launch programme, because the amount of energy required to launch a satellite into orbit depends on the location of the launch site and inclination it wants to attain. When satellites are launched close to the equator, they can carry more weight.
The Department of Space has recently set up a new commercial arm of New Space India Limited (NSIL), to commercially exploit the engaging global space market and manage technology transfer from Isro to industries.