Tag Archives: ISRO

India clears GSAT-11 for launch

After pulling GSAT-11 back to India just prior to launch to make sure all was well, ISRO has now approved its launch.

Isro chairman K Sivan said, “All the tests on Gsat-11 at Bengaluru’s ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) are over. We have found no anomaly. We are in the process of discussion with Arianespace to fix the next launch date for our satellite.” Earlier, the Isro chief had told TOI that all tests would be completed by May 17.

Isro had postponed the launch of Gsat-11 initially planned on May 25 from the European spaceport as it did not want to take chances with its heaviest satellite especially after the signal failure episode with Gsat-6A. Communication satellite Gsat-6A, which was successfully launched from Sriharikota on March 29, went out of control during the third orbit-raising manoeuvre in space when the signal with the satellite got abruptly snapped because of suspected power failure. The space agency since then has been trying to restore the communication link with Gsat-6A though it knows its exact location through the satellite-tracking system.

Sivan is trained first as an engineer, so he took an engineer’s approach here, not a manager’s. Very wise. This bodes well for India’s space agency as long as he is in charge.

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Serious fire at ISRO facility

An extensive fire at one of India’s main satellite testing facilities caused extension damage yesterday.

Top sources at SAC said the fire has caused serious damage to the “antenna test facility” as some specialised equipment have been damaged. The hi-tech “antenna test facility” of Isro is of paramount importance as antennas are the most crucial communication component in satellites. Moreover, the testing is also critical to space operations and requires very expensive and hi-tech equipment.

A top official said, “Space programmes are expensive but the silver line is that no satellite payload was damaged in the fire inside the antenna test facility.”

While an inquest will be held to probe what caused the fire, the fire service department said that it could be due to a short circuit. However, the SAC sources say, “The police will probe the cause of the fire. The facility has a strong protocol to battle fire caused due to short circuits. That is why the probe will cover the possibility of foul play and even sabotage.”

This is a serious. Space facilities and their operations have to be far strongly protected against fire than ordinary facilities due to the presence of volatile fuels. For a space facility to experience such an extensive fire suggests either someone was getting very sloppy, or (as suggested above) there was sabotage.

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India recalls communications satellite, postponing launch indefinitely

India’s space agency ISRO yesterday recalled its largest ever communications satellite, GSAT-11, from French Guiana, where it was being prepared for a May Ariane 5 launch, citing a need to check the satellite’s systems.

Though no specific reason was given for the recall, which will postpone the satellite’s launch indefinitely, it likely is related to the March failure in orbit of India’s GSAT-6A satellite.

ISRO lost communication contact with its GSAT-6A communication satellite soon after it was put into orbit on March 29.

ISRO suspects the failure of the power systems in the satellite for the loss of communication link. “The satellites are powered by solar panels that charge the onboard batteries. The batteries are fully charged when the satellite is loaded on to the rocket. Even if there is a problem with the solar panel, then the battery power should have kicked in. Here the entire power system of the satellite seems to have failed,” one space expert told IANS earlier.

According to experts, the power system could have failed due to some short circuiting or arcing resulting in what is known in the space terminology ‘loss of lock’ or loss of contact with the ground station.

The head of ISRO is a well-trained engineer who has worked in the trenches. I suspect he decided the problems with GSAT-6A demanded a more detailed systems check on GSAT-11 prior to launch. And even if it wasn’t his specific decision, the willingness to make such a decision I think indicates a great deal of maturity in the present culture at ISRO. It might be embarrassing to make such a recall, but it is far better to do so beforehand than after an unrecoverable failure in space. That they are willing to face this embarrassment to avoid a future failure is something laudable.

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India’s PSLV successfully launches GPS satellite

India’s PSLV rocket tonight successfully launched a replacement GPS satellite for its navigational system, replacing the satellite lost on a PSLV launch last year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
7 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 ULA
3 Europe
3 India

It surely is getting crowded near the bottom. It is also interesting that nations like India and Japan are still running neck and neck with Russia and Europe. Just last year their total launches didn’t match Europe’s, and was just a touch over half of Russia’s.

Update: News articles today say that, according to the head of ISRO, India is aiming for another 9 launches in 2018, for a total of 12, a new record for that country, while Russia’s space chief says they will complete 30 launches before the end of the year. I think India’s prediction is accurate, while Russia’s is hogwash.

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India’s GSLV rocket successfully launches military communications satellite

India today successfully launched a military communications satellite using the Mark II version of its large GSLV rocket, the rocket’s fourth successful launch in a row.

Using a combination of liquid and solid-fuelled stages, the GSLV was designed to place communications satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbits. To this end, GSLV has increased performance over the smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), from which it is derived.

GSLV’s first stage consists of a solid-fuelled core, with four radially-mounted liquid-fuelled strap-ons. The strap-ons are part of the first stage, and do not separate from the core. GSLV’s second stage, which is closely related to PSLV’s second stage, burns hypergolic liquid propellants, while the rocket’s third stage uses cryogenic fuel.

…The Mark II, which has a stretched third stage with an Indian engine, first flew in April 2010 but its new engine failed to ignite. The first successful Mk.II launch took place in January 2014. India also has a GSLV Mk.III. However, this is a completely new rocket that reached orbit for the first time last year. Excluding the Mk.III, Thursday’s launch was GSLV’s twelfth flight. In its previous eleven launches, GSLV has recorded six successes, four failures and one partial failure….GSLV’s current run of four consecutive successful launches is the longest that the rocket has achieved.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

8 China
5 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 ULA
3 Russia
2 Europe
2 India

Both Russia and China have scheduled launches for today, with SpaceX having a launch scheduled for tomorrow, so expect these standings to be updated a lot in the next 24 hours.

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India delays Chandrayaan-2 six months

Because engineers wished more time, India has delayed the launch of its second unmanned Moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, from April to October.

Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, in-charge of the Department of Space, Jitendra Singh had on 16 February last said the lunar mission under which the Isro will for the first time attempt to land a rover on the moon’s south pole, will be launched in April.

Sivan (head of ISRO) had earlier said the window to launch the Rs800 crore mission was between April and November 2018. While the “targeted date” was April, Isro would launch the mission in October or November, he had said.

This is a very ambitious mission, so pushing the launch back to October seems quite reasonable. That they are aiming for the south pole is also smart, especially since NASA has abandoned that location as a target to instead build a giant Potemkin village orbiting the Moon, where it can accomplish nothing.

Posted between Flagstaff and Phoenix as we head back from a very successful four-day caving expedition in the Grand Canyon.

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India and ULA complete first launches in 2018

The competition heats up: In what looks like the beginning of what might be the most active launch year in almost three decades, India and ULA today each successfully completed their first launches of 2018.

ULA’s Delta 4 rocket launched a U.S. reconnaissance satellite, while India’s PSLV rocket placed in orbit 31 satellites, 30 of which were smallsats. For India, this was their first launch since an August PSLV launch failed when the rocket fairing did not release.

Update: I just discovered that China launched its second rocket yesterday, placing it in a tie with U.S. for most launches and ahead of everyone else.

2 China
1 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 India

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Engineer appointed to head ISRO, India’s space agency

One day before ISRO’s first launch in 2018, India has appointed a well known and respected rocket engineer, K Sivan, to head its space agency.

Sivan was involved in developing both the PSLV and GSLV rockets. What I find more interesting is that he appears to have been entirely trained in India, obtaining degrees at several different universities there. This illustrates once again that India is no longer a third world nation. It has the facilities and educational depth to compete head-to-head with any nation in the world. It merely needs some time to catch up.

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India aims to double launches in 2018

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO said in a newspaper interview today that the agency hopes to more than double the number of launches it completes in 2018, increasing the number to between 10 to 12 launches from the four successful launches in 2017.

“We are targeting 10 to 12 launches next year. The communication satellite GSAT-6A and Chandrayaan-2 mission will be launched by GSLV-Mk-II rockets. The second mission of GSLV-Mk-III rocket with a communication satellite and the launch of navigation satellite also will take place next year”, Kiran Kumar explained.

The much-awaited Chandrayaan-2 mission could be launched in the second quarter of 2018. “The moon lander is ready for the mission and undergoing tests. The flight hardware is getting assembled and going through tests. We are targeting the second quarter of the next year for the launch”, the top scientist said.

The two GSLV launches are critical, as this larger rocket is needed for India to really compete in the international market.

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Japan’s Google Lunar X-Prize rover arrives in India for launch

Capitalism in space: The rover being built by the Japanese team competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize has arrived in India for installation on the PSLV rocket that will launch it into space.

The Sorato rover which is flight ready will be mounted on Team Indus lander at its facility in Jakkur. HAKUTO, one of the five teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, has signed a ride share agreement with Team Indus (India’s first private aerospace startup) for launching the Sorato along with the Indian rover.

Team Indus’s spacecraft, along with the two rovers, will also carry a few payloads and will be launched onboard ISRO’s workhorse, the PSLV-XL. The launch is expected to take place early next year (before March 8, 2018, the date set by Google to the five privately funded teams to launch the landers and the rovers on the Moon surface).

Several important details here. First, though the Japanese team appears to have all the necessary funds to pay for their flight, Team Indus is still searching for investment, and might not have the money to pay for its share of the flight. What will happen in that case is unclear.

Second, the word Hakuto in Japan means “white rabbit.” This name was chosen because Japanese folklore says a rabbit can be seen in the dark areas of the Moon’s face. This makes Japan’s rover the second rabbit to fly to the moon, after China’s Yutu rover, which in English means “jade rabbit” a name also based on Chinese folklore.

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India to build a smallsat rocket

Capitalism in space: India’s space agency ISRO has announced that it developing a smallsat rocket expressly designed to launch cubesats and thus compete with the new smallsat rocket companies now about to become operational.

ISRO has been very successful in providing a launch platform for smallsats on its PSLV rocket, but in this case the smallsats fly as secondary payloads, dependent on the needs of the larger primary satellite. It appears that the space agency has realized that their market share in this area is now threatened by the small rockets being developed by Rocket Lab and Vector, and is therefore moving to compete.

This announcement also provides more evidence that the space industry is splitting between smaller unmanned payloads and larger manned payloads. I predict that in ten years most unmanned satellites launched to circle the Earth will be tiny and launched on tiny rockets, while simultaneously we will see a new generation of giant rockets putting manned spacecraft into orbit and beyond.

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Another negative op-ed of India’s oppressive draft space law

Link here. Unlike the first negative op-ed earlier this week, the writer of today’s op-ed gets closer to the heart of the problem.

It is proposed that all powers to licence private players to launch and operate “space objects” will rest with the Union government (read DoS). And these powers will be quite sweeping. DoS will not only have powers to “grant, transfer, vary, suspend or terminate licence” but also have powers to inspect books of accounts and other documents of licensees and seek all information about partners, directors, etc.

This is particularly worrying because “space activity” under this proposed law not only covers launch of satellites but also “use of space objects” as well as “operation, guidance and entry of space object into and from outer space and all functions for performing the said activities.” This would technically mean even data companies handling satellite imagery or universities operating ground facilities for their microsatellites may also need a licence. If this is going to be so, it is a recipe for a new “licence raj”.

The writer is of course correct. The law as written gives all power and control to India’s government and its bureaucracy, a sure recipe for discouraging private enterprise. However, this writer also avoids the law’s worst component, that it places ownership of all space objects — rockets, satellites, and what they produce — with the government, not the private sector. Such a rule will not only squelch any commercial space development in India, it will likely cause private companies outside of India from buying India’s launch services. Why would I place my satellite on an Indian rocket if that country’s law means I will then no longer own it?

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India’s next launch might slip to 2018

India’s next PSLV commercial launch might slip to 2018, despite months of effort to resume launches in 2017 following the August 31 PSLV launch failure when the rockets fairing did not release.

“We are working towards it. It will be in the end of December or first week of January. In that time frame,” ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar said.

Kumar also said ISRO will try to launch on an average of once a month in 2018. The article also mentions the new and very oppressive Indian space law that has been proposed.

Asked whether the Space Activities Bill, 2017 would come up during the Budget session of Parliament, Kiran Kumar said “We have now put it in public comments. It would have to go through a set of discussions. The process has started.”

The draft of the proposed Bill to promote and regulate space activities of India, along with encouraging the participation of the private sector, has been uploaded on the ISRO website for comments from stakeholders and the public. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text is typical of all news reports coming from India. The law does no such thing, and in fact will strongly discourage any work by the private sector. It appears that in India reporters either do not read the text of laws they are reporting on, or they really do not have freedom of the press there.

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India proposes new oppressive space law

India’s government has proposed a new space law that essentially places all control of future space projects under the control of the central government.

The proposed law, which is open for comment for the next month, can be read here [pdf]. I’ve read it, and it astonishes me in its oppressiveness and hostility to private enterprise. This clause, one of many similar clauses, sums this up quite well:

Any form of intellectual property right developed, generated or created onboard a space object in outer space, shall be deemed to be the property of the Central Government.

The law would also require anyone who wants to launch a space project to get a license from the government, and gives the government the power to control that license in all aspects, including the power to cancel it for practically any reason.

If this law passes I expect that India’s burgeoning space industry will suffer significantly, especially because it will make it difficult to attract investment capital. Instead, it will be the central government that will run the business, and in the long run such government businesses always do badly.

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India and China to reduce launch costs

Capitalism in space: In response to the announcement by Chinese officials that they aim to reduce their launch costs in order to attract more commercial business, Indian officials announced that they plan to do the same in order to compete.

Interestingly, the reduced price that China revealed, $5,000 per kilogram, remains about twice that of SpaceX’s estimate per kilogram price for a launch using a reused first stage.

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India’s space agency ISRO hopes to double launch rate

Capitalism in space: ISRO officials said yesterday that the agency plans to double its launch rate next year, while also shifting as much of its space manufacturing effort to the private sector.

Currently, the space agency launches 9 to 10 spacecraft built by it every year. Dr K Sivan, director of Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said, “Isro is targeting to double the number of launches from 9-10 to 18-19 launches per year.”

On outsourcing of jobs to the private industry, Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar said the space agency does as much activity as possible with the industry. “Wherever it’s possible to get things done through the industry, we are doing and it will only increase in the coming days because we need to do more frequent activities,” he told a news agency. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted language is patently false. India has never launched 9 spacecraft in a year. Last year it set a record with 7 launches. This false overstatement casts some doubt to me of the sincerity of the second claim, that the agency wishes to shift as much responsibility to the private sector as possible. Government agencies rarely give up power. In the U.S. the decision by NASA to shift from NASA-built rockets to commercially-built rockets took decades (occurring reluctantly in 2008 after years of lobbying), and even a decade after that decision the transition is hardly guaranteed.

Nonetheless, that ISRO officials are setting a goal of 18-19 launches a year indicates that they truly do want to compete with the big launch players.

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TeamIndus still searching for funds for Google Lunar X-Prize mission

Capitalism in space: TeamIndus, one of the five finalists in the Google Lunar X-Prize mission, is still searching for the funds it needs to pay for its launch.

Bengaluru-based aerospace start-up TeamIndus is scouting for funds and sponsors to build a spacecraft with a rover for landing and exploring the lunar surface. “The total budget of the moon mission is about Rs 450 crore, out of which we have raised more than half (Rs 225 crore) and have spent. We’re trying to accumulate the rest through sponsors and others interested in this mission,” TeamIndus Fleet Commander Rahul Narayan told reporters here on Thursday.

They have a contract to launch on India’s PSLV rocket, but have been trying to raise the funds needed to pay for it now for months. In July they had raised half the needed funds. Though this article says they have raised more than half (in Indian money: Rs 225 crore), that number remains half of the total budget listed (Rs 450 crore). From this it appears they have not yet found any additional sponsorship.

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Mangalyaan passes three years in Mars orbit

India’s Mangalyaan orbiter has passed its third anniversary operating in Mars orbit.

The spacecraft could last as long as five more years before running out of fuel. Though it has five instruments and has taken more than 700 images, its importance so far is not in the science it has done but in what it has taught Indian engineers for running future more sophisticated missions.

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India hopes to resume launches before December

Despite an August 31 launch failure, India is still planning to resume launches before December.

On Friday, Mr Kiran Kumar [head of ISRO] was optimistic that the workhorse rocket would resume flights within a couple of months. “We have identified what the problem is, and we are going through simulations to make sure what we are concluding, is what has exactly happened (during the unsuccessful flight on August 31). The committee, which has been set up to go through the report is having detailed discussions and the report will come out very soon. After the committee gives its final report, we will resume the launches by November-December,” he said, on the sidelines of silver jubilee celebrations of Antrix Corporation Ltd, the corporate arm of ISRO.

They might not meet this goal, but that they are trying to resume launches in less than four months indicates that they are emulating the private sector and not most typical government agencies like NASA in this matter. Both NASA and ISRO have in the past sometimes taken years to recover from a launch failure. After SpaceX’s launchpad explosion in September 2016 they vowed to launch in less than four months, and managed to do it in five months. That ISRO is now trying to do the same indicates that the competition has forced them to up their game.

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India to almost double launch rate with new rocket assembly building

Capitalism in space: India’s space agency ISRO is building a second rocket assembly facility at its Sriharikota spaceport so that it can prepare two rockets for launch simultaneously.

“We have not reached the limit of two launchpads. With the new assembly facility, we will be able to assemble more vehicles. Once we are able to assemble more rockets but not able to launch them even by reducing launch timings, then we will start work on the third launchpad. But for that, we first need (government’s) approval. So, we are gradually working to eliminate all bottlenecks to increase the frequency of launches.” With the new facility, Isro can achieve launch 12 rockets in a year from the seven at present.

The Times of India also recognizes the value of this upgrade. To quote the article, “With the increased frequency of foreign satellite launches, ISRO can rake in big moolah.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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R.I.P. U.R. Rao

U.R. Rao, the man who led the design and construction of India’s first satellite in 1975, has passed away at 85.

After graduation from Madras University and post-graduation from Banaras Hindu University, Rao went to the US in the early 1960s to work in the faculty of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) at Cambridge in Maryland and as an Assistant Professor at University of Texas in Dallas.

On returning to India in 1966, Rao joined PRL in Ahmedabad as professor under the guidance of Vikram Sarabhai, architect of the Indian space science, and shifted to Bengaluru to work as a space scientist at ISRO’s satellite centre in 1972. “Under Rao’s guidance, the first Indian satellite ‘Aryabhata’ was built in 1975 to use space technology for the country’s socio-economic development. On its success, about 20 satellites were developed and launched for various space applications spanning communications, remote sensing and weather under his supervision,” an official said.

He subsequently became head of ISRO from 1984 to 1994, when they developed their first rocket, the ASLV, which became today’s PSLV, as well as began their development of the GSLV.

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ISRO’s 104 satellite launched earned India about $7 million

Capitalism in space: India’s space agency ISRO on Wednesday revealed to that country’s parliament that its record-setting 104 satellite launch on June 23 earned about $7 million.

On June 23 this year, PSLV-C38 had launched 712-kg Cartosat-2 satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites. Of the 30 nano satellites, while one belonged to Noorul Islam University from Tamil Nadu, the rest 29 were from 14 foreign countries. On Wednesday, the government informed the Lok Sabha that the launch of 29 foreign satellites helped Antrix Corporation Ltd (ACL), the commercial and marketing arm of Isro, earn Rs 45 crore (6.1 million euros).

Before the June 23 multiple launch, Isro made the world record when its PSLV C37 launched 104 satellites in one go on February 15 this year. However, the space agency did not reveal how much it earned from that record-breaking launch. Out of the 104 satellites, 96 were from the US, three from India and one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UAE.

From an American perspective it is encouraging that U.S. companies dominated the satellite count. From India’s perspective, the profits here are only going to encourage that nation to push for more rockets and cheaper costs.

The one problem I see with this is that it is the government that is obtaining the profits, not private Indian citizens or companies. Such an arrangement will not be good for India in the long run, as it encourages the government to use its coercive power to squelch private competitors.

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Has India cut its cubesat launch prices?

Capitalism in space: A complex analysis of India’s recent launch prices suggests that ISRO reduced its cubesat launch prices when it launched a record-setting 103 satellites on the most recent PSLV launch.

The key paragraph however is this:

Small-satellite owners have long complained that the PSLV, whose reliability has been established in the market, has been slow to increase its launch tempo at a time of surging cubesat production. For the moment, none of these satellite customers’ launch options provide predictable launch cadence at affordable prices.

That may be about to change as several dozen vehicles designed specifically to accommodate the growing cubesat market are preparing to enter operations. Not all are likely to succeed in establishing a foothold, but the sheer number of them is impressive:

That makes it all the more important for ISRO’s Antrix Corp., the agency’s commercial arm, to cement a reputation for launch regularity and low prices.

In other words, because a flock of new smallsat launch companies, such as Rocket Lab, Vector, and Virgin Orbit, are about to enter the market ISRO is suddenly feeling the pressure, which is why they have cut prices as well as started to up their launch rate.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

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Israel and India sign three new space agreements

The new colonial movement: India and Israel have inked three new development agreements between their different government space agencies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel has deepened cooperation in space technology between the two countries as the two sides on Wednesday signed three agreements relating to space. The first memorandum of understanding was between Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Israel Space Agency for cooperation in electric propulsion for small satellites, second was on cooperation in GEO-LEO optical links and third pact was on cooperation in atomic clocks (which are satellite components meant to provide precise locational data).

The third agreement is especially interesting. It indicates that India no longer wants to work with the German company that built its most recent GPS satellites because that company’s atomic clocks all had problems. Unlike the ESA, India has decided that such failures should not be rewarded with more work.

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India’s PSLV rocket successfully launches 31 satellites

India today completed its fourth launch of 2017, using its PSLV rocket to successfully place 31 satellites in orbit, including 30 smallsats.

They also did in-orbit engine tests of the rocket’s fourth stage after releasing the satellites.

For 2017 India has at this moment completed as many launches as ULA, and only one less than Russia. They have four more launches tentatively scheduled, though it is likely that not all will fly this year. If they get them off, however, they will definitely move into the upper tier of launch nations.

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What ISRO charges for a launch

Capitalism in space: This article, outlining the overall expenditures and earnings of India’s space agency, ISRO included this tidbit about the price it charges for launches:

Several companies like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Russia’s Proton ULA, and Arianespace are big names in the space but ISRO’s Antrix provides competitive rates for commercial launches. ISRO, that has now become a specialist in launching satellites, cost a third of SpaceX launches. The low rates are probably because of ISRO’s location while its Indian engineers earn a fraction of the salaries that engineers would command in foreign countries. [emphasis mine]

If India does charge in the range of $20 to $30 million per launch they are in a strong position to compete with SpaceX, even after it reduces its prices because of the use of used first stages.

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The first 3 of a 200 nanosat constellation delivered for launch

Capitalism in space: Sky and Space Global (SAS) has delivered the first three nanosats — of a planned 200 nanosat constellation — to India for launch.

The first three nanosats are to be launched by India on its PSLV rocket, but SAS has contracted Virgin Orbit to use its LauncherOne to put the next 197 up. They had made this first announcement last summer, saying the first three would launch in the second quarter of 2017. It appears that they are holding to that schedule.

They also said that LauncherOne would begin launching the other 197 satellites in 2018. For this I remain far more skeptical, since the track record at Virgin in getting its spacecraft off the ground on schedule has not been good.

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India’s GSLV rocket successfully launches communications satellite

India’s successfully launched a communications satellite early today using its Mark II GSLV rocket.

Friday’s launch, designated GSLV F09, was the fifth flight of the Mark II GSLV which debuted in April 2010. This replaced the Mark I, which first flew in 2001 and made its final flight at the end of 2010, introducing an Indian-developed third stage engine instead of a Russian-built engine flown on the Mark I. With this new cryogenic propulsion system, the GSLV Mk.II is a fully indigenous vehicle.

The GSLV’s service has been marred by concerns over its reliability – to date only half of its flights have been successful – however last September’s launch of INSAT-3DR saw it achieve three consecutive successes for the first time.

This launch success significantly strengthens ISRO’s ability to sell its launch services worldwide. They now have three different rocket configurations, all entirely home built, and all with a string of launch successes.

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ISRO requests Indian proposals for Venus probe

India’s space agency ISRO has issued a request for proposals from Indian scientists for the scientific instruments to be installed on a future probe to Venus.

The announcement included the following information about the proposed Venus orbiter itself:

The payload capability of the proposed satellite is likely to be 175 kg with 500W of power. However these values are to be tuned based on the final configuration. The proposed orbit is expected to be around 500 x 60,000 km around Venus. This orbit is likely to be reduced gradually, over several months to a lower apoapsis.

All told it appears that India is moving forward with this project, and probably intends to build it much like they build Mangalyaan, their successful Mars orbiter, quickly, efficiently, and for relatively low cost.

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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.

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