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Chronic capacity shortage sends ISRO searching for lease of overseas satellite

A chronic national shortage of communication satellite capacity has forced the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to search for a quick-fix lease of an overseas satellite in orbit, temporarily.

ISRO routinely leases partial capacity on foreign satellites, primarily for the bulk of private direct-to-home television operators. However, it has not leased an entire communication satellite. The space agency says it needs to hire a suitable extra spacecraft for two or three years. It put out an RFP (request for proposal) earlier in December asking international satellite operators if they can spare an existing geostationary spacecraft; or one that will be launched in the first quarter of 2017.

Post-deal, the satellite which must also have Ku-band transponders will be moved into one of the six satellite parking slots allotted to India overhead within its longitudes.

The lease will temporarily augment ISRO's transponder capacity for various national uses, A.S. Kiran Kumar, ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, told The Hindu recently, adding that there was no emergency in the sky. The leasing process may take a few months.

ISRO has about a dozen communication satellites in orbit. As per a 2015 estimate, a third of the 286 satellite transponders in use was non-Indian.

In addition to the lease plan, Mr. Kiran Kumar said, “We are putting up five new communication satellites during 2017. This should significantly improve our capacity.”

Among the upcoming satellites is a bigger spacecraft which will be the first Indian high-throughput satellite (HTS) targeted at increasing the connectivity for Internet users.

ISRO’s previous communication satellite was launched in October. Mr. Kiran Kumar, who also chairs the Space Commission, said, “With the launch of GSAT-18, we have almost 48 additional transponders coming up for use.”

The Asian region has a very dense population of commercial satellites over its skies and ISRO has time and again borrowed space on spacecraft of Malaysian, Thai, Singapore and U.S. operators.

When its communication satellite INSAT-2D died prematurely a few months after launch in 1997, ISRO bought the entire Arabsat-1C from Saudi Arabia in orbit to bridge the shortage.

The space agency plans to double the number of launches to 12-18 a year. Mr. Kiran Kumar had said in September that ISRO needs to at least double the number of spacecraft that it has in order “to give reasonable service” to the country. At least 60 government departments and a number of commercial entities depend on Indian satellite data for communication, broadcasting, defence, weather forecasting, rescue during disasters, natural resources management and Earth observation.


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