India’s new smallsat rocket gets its first launch contract


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The new colonial movement: India today signed its first customer for its new and still untested SSLV rocket, designed to provide orbital launch services for the burgeoning smallsat market.

Spaceflight announced Aug. 6 that it will purchase the first commercial launch a new Indian vehicle scheduled to make its debut later this year. Spaceflight said it will launch payloads for an undisclosed U.S. satellite constellation customer on a flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), a derivative of the existing, larger Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The launch is scheduled for later this year and will be the second for the SSLV after a demonstration launch expected no earlier than September.

While the companies didn’t announce the customer for the mission, a July 25 filing with the Federal Communications Commission by Earth imaging company BlackSky Global sought a license for four of its satellites it said would launch on the SSLV in November 2019. The applications said the satellites would be deployed into two orbital planes, consistent with Spaceflight’s announcement.

While this Indian rocket is hardly a private operation, it has no military component, as do the new Chinese smallsat companies. ISRO, India’s space agency, is wholly civilian with no apparent ties to its military, as far as I know. Its goal is to purely make money and grab market share.

At the same time, the use of government funds to develop this rocket gives India the same advantage that China’s smallsat companies have over the privately funded rockets from the U.S. It allows them to set lower prices and undercut the competition.

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