Tag Archives: ISRO

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India’s current satcom policy, first rolled out in 1997 and then updated in 2000, is clearly outdated.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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’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.

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.

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.

India launches sixth GPS satellite

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched the sixth satellite in its own GPS constellation. using its PSLV rocket.

They will complete the GPS constellation with a seventh satellite launch in April. The system however is already functioning, as it only needs a minimum of four satellites to work. Unlike the U.S. 24 satellite system, which is designed to be global, India’s system is regional with its focus centered over India itself. This is why they do not need as many satellites for it to function effectively.

India’s space agency ISRO gets a budget boost

In its new budget approved by India’s government the country’s space agency ISRO was the only science agency to get a significant budget increase, approximately 7.3%.

In the short run this is good, as ISRO has been using its funds wisely and accomplishing a lot for a little, while trying to encourage private development in India’s aerospace industry. In the long run, however, this will not be good, as government agencies always grow more than they should while sucking the innovation and creativity from the private sector. This is what NASA did in the U.S.

Hopefully, India will see how things are changing in America with private enterprise reasserting itself after a half century of government stagnation in space development and copy what we are doing.

Successful test of India’s GSLV rocket engine

The competition heats up: India has successfully completed a full duration static hot fire test of the cryogenic engine it is developing for its more powerful GSLV rocket.

The press release is very short and lacking in many details, including any detailed information about the engine being tested. However, this success bodes well for India’s plans to launch a new upgraded GSLV before the end of the year.

India’s first launch of 2016

The competition heats up: India today successfully completed its first launch in 2016, placing in orbit the fifth of what will be a seven satellite constellation of home-built navigational satellites.

It was India’s 50th orbital launch, and another success for their smaller PSLV rocket. The article is especially worth reading as it includes a nice history of the country’s rocket program.

India’s space agency calls for more hiring

The competition heats up: India’s space agency ISRO says it is facing a manpower shortage caused by its recent successes and increased demand for more space achievements.

ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) director M Annadurai – who is also considered one of the heroes of the India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon (October 2008-August 2009) and the November 2013-launched MOM – has said after a steep increase in ISRO’s workforce expansion between 1982 and 1992 there has been no significant growth in ISRO’s workforce, which has remained in the region of 16,500 over several years. “There is a crunch,” he admitted on the sidelines of the Aerospace & Defence Manufacturing Summit 2015, although adding that it was relative in nature. “The requirements have increased but the workforce has remained more or less the same.”

Annadurai said the requirements were from domestic as well as foreign origin. The ISRO on July 11 launched five British satellites in a single launch, which is considered a record as it was the Indian space agency’s heaviest commercial launch. On the domestic front, he said, there are plans to increase Indian satellite launches from the current four a year to ten in the near future – which requires manpower to meet the quality requirements.

Without doubt India’s recent successes demand a growth in its space industry. The danger here is that India will add jobs to its government space agency rather than hire private companies to do the work and let them do the hiring. If they do the latter, the companies will have flexibility and will be able to adjust quickly to changing conditions. If the former the government will instead be hiring employees who will be seen by politicians as a vested interest they must protect, whether or not it makes sense economically. The first option will allow the aerospace industry to grow naturally. The second will fossilize that industry around pork supporting inefficient political agendas.

Hopefully the new conservative Modi government in India will recognize the dangers of expanding its government agency and will go the private route. This quote from the article gives me hope:

“We need the same number of people (16,500) outside to support operations, which is why we are encouraging private partnerships,” he said. Senior ISRO scientists have also said they have been encouraging retiring space scientists to foster links with private firms to encourage them to work with ISRO in the future. This is with an aim to bring in an “outside manpower” to bolster the in-house activities by ISRO scientists.

India has successful rocket engine test

The competition heats up: India has successfully completed a full duration test of its upgraded cryogenic rocket engine.

This gets them much closer to not only having the ability to launch all of their own geosynchronous satellites, it gets them closer to building a rocket capable of putting human capsules into orbit.

India extends Mangalyaan’s mission by six months

Western slopes of Arsia Mons

Having successfully completed its nominal six month mission and continuing to operate perfectly, ISRO has extended the mission of India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter for another six months.

Take a gander at the images the orbiter has been sending down. Quite impressive. The cropped image on the right shows the western slopes of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, with white water vapor hovering above those slopes. (Click on the image for the full resolution version.) The water vapor is significant because scientists believe that this region once had many glaciers, and that much of that water is still present and trapped below the surface as ice, possibly in many of the caves that are there. The vapor’s presence, a routine occurance here, strengthens this theory.

India’s space budget remains stable

India this year has budgeted $1.2 billion for ISRO, the government agency that runs its space program.

The most astonishing thing I learned from this article however was this tidbit:

The total, presented to the parliament Feb. 28, is roughly level with the 2014-15 budget presented last year. However, ISRO typically spends significantly less money than is allocated in any given budget year — for 2014-15 it spent just 58 billion rupees of the 72 billion rupee allocation — so it seems likely that spending in the coming year will fall short of 73.9 billion rupees. ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik acknowledged the possibility that ISRO’s budget will be reduced before the end of the year. [emphasis mine]

Who ever heard of any government agency in the United States routinely spending less than its budget. The idea is unheard of!

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