Tag Archives: India

India’s government a barrier to private space

Even as India and its space agency show themselves to increasingly be a major player in the worldwide aerospace market, it appears that India’s governmental policy on private satellite communications is acting as a barrier that blocks the growth of a commercial space industry.

India’s current satcom policy, first rolled out in 1997 and then updated in 2000, is clearly outdated. A senior ISRO official who attended the ORF event (but declined to be identified) pointed out that all the existing satcom policy says is Indian satellite companies will be given preference over foreign multinational companies. “How does this preference play out? If the department of space is worried about national security concerns, they should lay down clear guidelines for security compliance by foreign satellites. The existing policy doesn’t talk about this, which inevitably leaves it to ISRO, DoS and Antrix’s discretion,” the official told The Wire.

And this discretion has held up multiple applications for satellite manufacturing and foreign direct investment over the last decade. Hughes’ Krishna is particularly frustrated over this. “If a company submits an application for satellite broadband services in India, irrespective of where the satellites will be made, it needs a specific timeline on when it will hear back from ISRO or the DoS. Will it be two years, three years or five years? It is difficult to line up future investments if speedy clearance is not given,” Krishna said.

Essentially, India’s Department of Space (DoS) and its space agency ISRO control all licensing, and have been using that power to delay or deny the issuing of any private satellite licenses, since such efforts are in competition with these government agencies.

The situation here is very similar to what existed in the U.S. with NASA for most of the last half of the 20th century. The agency did not want private launch companies competing with its own manned programs, and diligently worked to block their efforts. If you wanted to be part of manned space, you did what NASA told you to do and you built what they told you to build. It wasn’t until the rise of the commercial space programs to launch cargo to ISS that NASA’s grip on manned space was finally broken.

India now faces the same problem. ISRO has done an excellent job, as NASA did in its early years, in getting India’s space industry started. It now needs to back off, stop running things and simply be a customer of these competing private companies, letting freedom do the job instead of government dictate. The question now is whether the Indian government will allow this to happen. There are many vested interests there that will resist.

India’s space agency wants to build a space station

The decline begins: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday advocated that his country build its own space station.

The spacesuit is ready. A survival capsule is on the way. ISRO has everything to send astronauts into space and develop a space station, all that’s left is for the government to give the money and policy clearance, said ISRO chief AS Kiran Kumar here on Monday. “We have the capability to create a space station, but you (government) have to give us the money and time to make this happen,” Kumar told reporters on the sidelines of 34th foundation day celebration of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT). “If the government and country decides… we are ready. You need to provide us funding, policy clearance,” he said, adding that space mission is low priority for the government “because one doesn’t see any immediate use of this in country’s development and growth”.

Kumar’s comments came in the backdrop of Chinese media reacting to ISRO’s recent record launch of 104 satellites at one go. An editorial in a Chinese newspaper pointed out that “there is no Indian astronaut in space and the country’s plan to establish a space station has not started”. [emphasis mine]

Rather than focus on development that could increase India’s competitiveness in the profitable launch market, such as improving its rockets either by making them reusable or able to launch more frequently, Kumar instead wants to spend his government’s money and build a space station. He doesn’t really outline what he intends to accomplish with this station, other than demonstrate that India can match China. His focus instead is creating an infrastructure for pork and jobs for ISRO. The station will not bring in profits, which would be more useful to the country and its nascent private space industry.

This is what government agencies routinely do. They might start out functioning like an innovative private company trying to attract customers, but the lure of coerced government money always takes precedence in the end, and the agency shifts its focus to building pork-laden empires funded by tax dollars.

India preparing rover for 2018 Moon landing

The competition heats up: India preparing rover for 2018 Moon landing.

Isro’s Satellite Applications Centre Director, M. Annadurai, revealed the tentative launch schedule while speaking to the press at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Shar, Sriharikota on Wednesday. He said a Lander and a six-wheeled Rover were being prepped to go with the Chandrayaan-II mission. The chief scientist added that a launch is likely to take place in the first quarter of 2018. According to Dr P.V. Venkita Krishnan, the director of the Isro Propulsion Complex at Mahendragiri, engineers were currently testing soft-landing engines.

India’s launch of a record 104 satellites on a single rocket has pumped up the Indian press, as there were almost 20 stories on space and that launch in their press today, almost all favorable.

This article however is from the U.S., and takes a look at the ineffective American space policy that supposedly forbids American companies from launching on Indian rockets.

The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Agreement of 2005 prohibits the launch of commercial satellites on the Indian vehicle. The reasoning is that struggling U.S. commercial launch providers needed time to establish themselves in the market and would be wiped out by India’s PSLV, which is developed by the Indian Space Organization.

Since 2015, commercial satellite owners have successfully obtained waivers to the policy.

The article notes India’s competitive prices, as well as the overall state of the smallsat industry and its dependence on bigger rockets as secondary payloads to get into space. India’s rockets, funded and subsidized by the government but also built to be inexpensive so as to attract customers, is clearly positioned to effectively compete with SpaceX, who until now charged the least.

What will our Congress do? My preference would be for them to repeal this part of the 2005 law so that American satellite companies can fly on whoever they wish. That would increase competition but it would also likely invigorate the overall launch industry because it would increase the satellite customer base for those rockets and thus create more business for everyone.

Sadly, I suspect that Congress will instead demand that the waivers to the law cease, and will thus block the use if Indian satellites by American companies. The short-sightedness of our politicians never ceases to surprise me.

India launches record 104 satellites at one go

The competition heats up: India today successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch a record 104 satellites.

I can’t quote the description of the 104 satellites as it is too long. The bottom line however is that India has demonstrated that it is now a major player in the space launch industry.

Countdown begins on India’s record-setting launch of 104 satellites

The competition heats up: ISRO has begun the countdown for Wednesday’s launch of India’s PSLV rocket, carrying a record-setting 104 satellites.

he Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle would be carrying a 714 kilogram main satellite for earth observation and 103 smaller “nano satellites” which would weigh a combined 664 kilograms. Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and 96 from United States, said the state-run ISRO.

If successful, India will set a world record as the first country to launch the most satellites in one go, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014.

Obviously, all these different satellites got a cut-rate launch deal by sharing the launch, which helps make their launch affordable. The disadvantage here is that they do not have much flexibility in choosing their orbits, which is why there is also a market now for small rockets aimed at launching single smallsats, such as Rocket Lab’s Electron.

An orbital change extends the life of India’s Mars orbiter

An orbital maneuver has allowed India’s Mars Orbiter Mission avoid an eight hour period with no sunlight — thus draining its batteries — so that the mission can be extended until 2020.

The on-board battery which was to take over had a life of just about 1.4 hours, while the eclipse was to last for 8 hours. The spacecraft’s future was bleak.

The scientists thought of a solution. On the night of January 17, a team of eight engineers at Indian Space Research Organisation’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, Bengaluru, sent a time-delayed command to the Mars probe. The command set in motion firing of eight on-board thruster rockets. Each of them were fired for 431 seconds, pushing the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) space probe to a new orbit that completely avoids an eclipse up to September 2017. The shadowing in September is of a smaller duration, which the satellite’s batteries can handle. “Because of the crucial orbital change, the MOM now gets three additional years’ life. We are expecting it to transmit data till 2020,” Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar told DH.

The mission’s science data is not as important as the experience it is giving Indian engineers in operating a planetary probe remotely from Earth. This success speaks well for the future of India’s space effort.

India to launch spare GPS satellite because of single satellite failure

Because of the failure of the atomic clocks on one of its GPS satellites have failed, India now plans to launch one of their spare satellites to increase the system’s redundancy.

The article does not say whether they will make any changes to the clocks on the spare satellite, which are the same as the failed clocks on the Indian satellite and were all built by the same European company that built the clocks on Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites that are also failing.

Clock problems on one of India’s GPS satellites

One of India’s seven GPS satellites is presently out of commission because its on-board atomic clock has malfunctioned.

The remaining satellites in the constellation is still functioning however, and are sufficient. The nature of this failure, so similar to the clock failures that have hit a number of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites, makes me wonder if there is a connection.

India delays next launch of its largest rocket

India has delayed the next launch of its GSLV rocket from January to no earlier than March in order to conduct tests on the rocket.

This does not change the schedule for the next launch of their smaller PSLV rocket, which is still set for February and will launch a record of over a hundred satellites, most of which are smallsats.

Posted from Tucson Internationa Airport. I am heading to St. Louis today to give a lecture to the local chapter there of the AIAA.

Pakistan test fires a submarine-launched cruise missile

Does this make you feel safer? Pakistan last week successfully tested a submarine-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 miles and capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The article provides a lot of detail not only on Pakistan’s capabilities but of India’s as well.

Although still a far cry from India’s 6,000 ton displacement Arihant class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (one is service and three others planned) and the short-range K-15 or medium-range K-4 ballistic missiles they carry, Pakistan’s nuclear armed Agosta class boats at least get the country in the second strike game, but in a very minimal way.

The Indian Navy’s anti-submarine capability is credible, and their submarine fleet includes multiple diesel-electric submarines of different origin, as wells a Russian Akula II class nuclear fast attack boat. So keeping an eye on Pakistan’s tiny Agosta 90B fleet will be possible, although it is not clear what level of confidence the Indian Navy has that they can always keep the boats in their own submarines’ crosshairs. Not just that, but even attempting to do so will tie up valuable assets that could better be assigned to deterring other regional nuclear powers, like China.

India considers going to Jupiter and Venus

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO is considering unmanned missions to both Jupiter and Venus, while also delaying their first manned test flight four years until 2024.

More significant, the second link had this quote:

Mr Somnath said during the current fiscal, Isro planned eight PSLV flights, up from six in 2016. “Our aim is to steadily increase the launches between 12 and 20 in phases with creation of necessary infrastructure.

Like everyone else, they are getting enough business to up their launch rate. 2017 is going to be an active year in the launch market.

Fifth Google Lunar X-Prize team gets launch deal

Japan’s Team Hakuto has signed a deal to partner with another Google Lunar X-Prize competitor, Team Indus, to share the cost and launch together on a Indian PSLV rocket.

Essentially, both competitors will launch together. They will then race to the Moon to see which can first achieve the X-Prize goal of landing and roving 500 meters.

India hires private companies to build satellite

The competition heats up: For the first time India’s space agency ISRO has signed a deal with a private consortium of private companies to have them build satellites.

The contract signed on Friday includes assembly, integration and testing (AIT) of two spare navigation satellites consecutively in around 18 months. It was signed between M. Annadurai, Director of ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), and the consortium lead, Alpha Design Technologies P Ltd. ISAC assembles the country’s satellites for communication, remote sensing and navigation.

From the third year, Indian industry could expect competitive bids for a new lot of spacecraft of 300-500-kg class, perhaps five a year, for both ISRO and for export, Col. H.S. Shankar (retd), CMD of Alpha Design, told The Hindu. This is the first time that ISRO has outsourced an entire satellite to industry, said Col. Shankar .

The Modi government appears to be trying here to emulate NASA in putting private companies in charge of construction, rather than having things designed and built in-house by ISRO. This is a very good sign. If they do it now, in the early days of their space effort, they can reduce ISRO’s ability to grow into a large bureaucracy with its own vested interests.

Design flaw in India’s Mars Orbiter

According to American researchers, a fundamental design flaw in the primary scientific instrument on India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter prevents it from carrying out its mission of measuring the methane in the Martian atmosphere.

“They did not design this properly for the detection of methane on Mars,” Michael Mumma, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Seeker. In 2003, Mumma led a team that made the first definitive measurements of methane on Mars using an infrared telescope in Hawaii. The methane, which appeared in plumes over specific regions of Mars, reached a maximum density of about 60 parts per billion. “The (MOM) instrument is beautifully engineered, but not for the methane task. It has other value, but unfortunately they will not be able to provide measurements of methane at the levels needed to sample even the plumes we saw,” Mumma said.

They are re-purposing the instrument to measure the reflected sunlight coming off the Martian surface, useful data to be sure but hardly worth an entire space mission.

ISRO begins ground tests of its first lunar lander

The competition heats up: ISRO, India’s space agency, has begun testing the sensors its first lunar lander, Chandrayaan-2, will use to descend safely to the surface.

ISRO Satellite Centre or ISAC, which is the lead centre for the country’s second moon mission, has artificially created eight to ten craters to make the terrain resemble the lunar surface. This terrain is now the test bed for the lunar Lander’s sensors. Between Friday and Monday, a small ISRO-owned aircraft carrying equipment with the sensors flew a few times over these craters to see how well they performed.

PSLV places multiple satellites into different orbits

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO has successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch eight satellites into two different orbits.

After the successful separation of SCATSAT-1, the PSLV-C35 mission continued. Still carrying the seven co-passenger satellites, the fourth stage of PSLV coasted over the South polar region and then started ascending towards the Northern hemisphere. A safe distance between the orbiting SCATSAT-1 and PSLV-C35 fourth stage was maintained by suitably manoeuvring the stage.

At 1 hour 22 minutes and 38 seconds after lift-off as the fourth stage was in the North polar region, the two engines of PSLV fourth stage were reignited and fired for 20 seconds. As a result of this, it entered into an elliptical orbit measuring 725 km on one side of the Earth and 670 km on the other. And 50 minutes later, as the PSLV fourth stage was again coasting near the south pole, its engines were fired for another 20 seconds. This second firing made the fourth stage to enter into a circular orbit of 669 km height inclined at an angle of 98.2 degree to the equator. 37 seconds later, the Dual Launch Adapter was successfully separated from the PSLV-C35 fourth stage. 30 seconds after this event, ALSAT-1N was the first co-passenger satellite to be separated successfully. Following this, the NLS-19, PRATHAM, PISAT, ALSAT-1B, ALSAT-2B, and Pathfinder-1 were separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence thereby successfully completing PSLV-C35 mission.

This launch was also the 36th successful PSLV launch in a row.

India army suffers largest terrorist attack in decade

Guess who: On Sunday seventeen India soldiers were killed by terrorists thought to come from a Islamic terror group based in Pakistan.

The Director General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, said the terrorists were foreigners and there are clear signs of the role of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose chief Masood Azhar is based in Pakistan. The group had been involved in the attack on Pathankot air base in January during which 7 army-men were killed.

An analysis of the situation can be read here.

India’s GSLV rocket successfully launches again

The competition heats up: India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) successfully placed a commercial communications satellite in orbit today.

This is the third successful GSLV launch in a row, indicating that India’s space agency ISRO has finally worked out the kinks of their home-built upper stage and are ready to begin regular and more frequent commercial launches, in direct competition with the world’s big players in the launch industry.

India tests scramjet successfully

The competition heats up: Using a newly developed suborbital sounding rocket, India today successfully tested its first scramjet engines.

The scramjet engine, used only during the atmospheric phase of the rocket’s flight, will help in bringing down the launch cost by reducing the amount of oxidiser to be carried, along with the fuel. Later, the ISRO in a statement said: “With this flight, critical technologies such as ignition of air-breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems have been successfully demonstrated.” The scramjet engine designed by ISRO uses hydrogen as fuel and the oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidiser.

The real question is whether India can do something that NASA has never been able to do, go beyond tests and get a scramjet engine installed in a rocket and put it to use. NASA’s history is filled with many similar test programs, each hailed as great achievements that will someday revolutionize the launch industry, and then forgotten and shelved.

TMT will probably not go to India

An Indian astronomer, in testimony to India’s parliament, has explained that for engineering and technical reasons India will likely not be the new location of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

Essentially, the skies are clearer in the Canary Islands and in Chile.

This story is important in that it confirms that the consortium building TMT is now very seriously considering abandoning Hawaii, and might already have decided to do so. It also suggests that the Canary Islands is in the lead as the new location, since they want a site that can see the skies of the northern hemisphere, something that won’t be possible in Chile.

India faces $1 billion in damages for space contract cancellation

An arbitration court at the Hague yesterday ruled that India faces $1 billion in damages because of its unilateral cancellation in 2011 of a satellite deal between itself and a private company.

More info here. Essentially the ruling says that India had made a legal commitment when it signed the contract, and by unilaterally cancelled it they did harm to the private company’s shareholders.

This case illustrates that, despite India’s successes in space, it is still running a government space program, with all the flaws that come with it. Paying off these damages will likely put a serious crimp in the country’s space effort in the next few years.

The Indian government considers privatization

The competition heats up: The Indian space agency, ISRO, is discussing with private companies ways in which it might privatize its smaller and successful rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

In order to step up the launch capacity within the country, ISRO is in the process of exploring the possibility of involving Indian industry in a greater role to meet the increased national requirements and possible commercial demand for launch services. Discussions are being held with the Indian industry towards formulating a plan and strategy to enhance the capacity as well as capability of managing the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) programme on an end to end basis.

The sense I get from this ISRO announcement is that the government is taking the lead, trying to drag the private companies forward to take over. I also sense that both the private companies as well as ISRO are at the moment are somewhat uninterested in doing it. Neither impression is stated anywhere in this announcement and are merely my personal impressions, based literally on no inside information, which of course means I could be very wrong.

India’s government proposes ending satellite competition

The competition cools down? A regulatory agency in India is proposing eliminating commercial satellite competition and consolidating all satellite television broadcasts onto a handful of government owned and launched satellites.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign seeks to promote India’s domestic industrial base. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on May 23 published what it calls a “pre-consultation paper” that points to the savings satellite-television broadcasters could realize if they stopped beaming the same programs on different satellites, and instead banded together on one or two spacecraft.

As of March 2015, the latest period for which TRAI has produced figures, there were 76 million DTH subscribers in India, of which 41.1 million were considered active. These subscribers received programming from six pay TV DTH providers and one free-to-air satellite broadcast service. TRAI said multiple DTH providers are broadcasting the same channels even as they compete with each other for subscribers. “There is scope for better utilization of available infrastructure,” TRAI said. “There is a need to examine technical and commercial issues in sharing of infrastructure such as satellite transponders, Earth station facilities….”

There is also this important component to the story:

India has been one of the biggest satellite-DTH growth markets in recent years, but one in which barriers to entry by foreigners remain high. Under Indian law, television broadcasters seeking operating licenses are given preferential treatment if they use India’s own Insat telecommunications satellites, owned and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Non-Indian satellites are permitted if ISRO’s Insat system does not have sufficient capacity to meet programmers’ demand. This has been the case for years as ISRO has been unable to keep up with the market for satellite television.

In other words, the commercial satellite business in India is doing great, so let’s muck it up by having one government agency create a monopoly for another government agency.

The United States tried this in the 1960s when it banned private companies from launching commercial communications satellites and instead required all such satellites to be built by the government-managed Comsat corporation. The result in the U.S. was a squelched satellite and launch industry that did not recover for more than a decade, and only did so when the Nixon administration forced a change in the rules.

TMT calls for removal of official supervising permit process

The University of Hawaii has filed a motion to have the hearing officer in charge of the new permitting process for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) removed.

What the lawyers for TMT appear to be doing is trying to prevent further delaying tactics by those opposing the telescope. Their motion describes these delaying tactics, which involve questioning the objectivity of various officials involved, but doing it piecemeal in order to slow the permitting process down as much as possible. The officer in question has membership in an astronomy center, and though the anti-TMT forces have not yet questioned this, TMT lawyers want to act now to remove that possibility later.

Once again, I think TMT officials are spinning their wheels. Hawaii will never give them permission to build TMT. Read the ten-point plan of Hawaii’s governor for protecting Mauna Kea and you will agree. They should move the telescope to a more friendly location as soon as possible.

India test flies its first spaceplane prototype

The competition heats up: India this morning successfully completed a test flight of its first spaceplane engineering prototype.

After a 90sec burn, the booster delivered the RLV-TD to the proper altitude before separating from the prototype and destructively fall back to Earth in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, the RLV-TD continued on, falling back into Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic velocity. During this hypersonic test, the RLV-TD pitched its nose up relative to the horizon and direction of travel – just as the Space Shuttles did during atmospheric entry. This allowed engineers to gather valuable in-flight data surrounding the performance of the vehicle’s thermal protection system (600 heat-resistant tiles and a carbon-carbon nose), its aerodynamic characteristics during hypersonic flight, and inform the overall design of the eventual full-scale RLV.

The prototype was designed to test the flight characteristics of the spaceplane, not its landing capabilities. If all went as planned, it would have glided horizontally into the ocean, as if it was landing on a runway, but then sink.

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