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Global interest in India's PSLV Rocket soars after successive record hits

Highlights
  • Next flight to carry 30 smallsats

The Indian PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) space vehicle has received more than double its normal share of inquiries from prospective customers ever since it launched a record 104 satellites in a single flight in February.

A world best, 101 small foreign commercial spacecraft were taken up at once in that feat, catapulting the PSLV’s overall commercial tally to 180.

“There has been a spurt in inquiries, almost double what we were getting. Globally, 500 satellites are expected to come up for launch every year from 2018 onwards. We are seeing how we can equip ourselves towards meeting this big opportunity,” said Rakesh Sashibhushan, chairman and managing director of Antrix Corporation, ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organisation) business arm that markets its rocket and satellite services.

“ISRO is also ramping up availability of the PSLVs. Antrix has asked for two dedicated PSLVs a year for doing fully commercial launches. They can mostly cater to the 5 kg to 100 kg small satellites,” he told The Hindu.

The PSLV, with a near impeccable 37 successes in 39 flights, he said, is a clear leader in the category of rockets that lift small satellites to low Earth orbits or LEOs. These satellites weigh up to 500 kg and must be placed in polar orbits 500 km from Earth.

“Antrix has launch orders worth around ₹ 600 crore,” Mr. Sasibhushan said. Roughly 15% of its nearly ₹ 2,000-crore turnover comes from PSLV launch orders of foreign satellite operators.

Similar 100-plus satellite contracts in a single flight would be uncommon; Mr. Sasibhushan said the next PSLV, C-38, due in May, would have 30 smallsats riding piggyback with the primary Cartosat-2 series satellite. But they are not a result of the February launch, he clarified.

Carolyn Belle, Senior Analyst at Northern Sky Research, a space industry consultancy based in Massachusetts, said in a response, "The PSLV is in an interesting position in the market. It has a strong technical track record and is an attractive vehicle for smallsat operators - especially if the launch [frequency] increases."

However, a limiting factor, in her view, is the waiver process that is needed to launch a US satellite, the US being the largest market.


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