India’s space agency ISRO hopes to double launch rate

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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.



  • Dick Eagleson

    The comment said “the space agency launches 9 to 10 spacecraft built by it every year.” If one interprets this as referring to satellites, as opposed to launch vehicles, then it’s a roughly correct statement, at least if one counts as yet unhatched chickens. If ISRO manages to do everything it has scheduled through the end of 2017, it will have conducted eight launches of its own rockets and orbited 9 satellites it built itself. The total number of Indian-built satellites launched would be 13, but the other four are/will be all university-built smallsats.

    India’s chances of making these numbers is open to some legitimate question as it would require ISRO to do three launches during December: a GSLV II, a PSLV-XL and a PSLV. But, if India is actually looking to double the number of ISRO-built or sponsored payloads in the coming year, December’s “aspirational” launch cadence would be good practice for the busy 2018 it is looking to have anent space. Personally, I would like to see the Indians pull off the December hat trick.

  • J Fincannon

    Another way to look at it is that they are only talking about launch vehicles. In 2016, they DID launch 9 vehicles. Seven are the standard ones that launched payloads which were from PSLV-XL and GSLV MkII rockets (2016-003, 015, 027, 040, 054, 059 and 074).

    But add to that list two which were test vehicles. One on May 16, 2016 was a RLV-TD and one on August 28, 2016 was a ATV-D02 (advanced technology vehicle).

    Choosing the payload route, if you just count the Indian payloads in 2016, you get 11 payloads from India (2016-003A, 0015A, 0027A, 0040A, 0040B, 0040J, 0054A, 0059A, 0059B, 0059H and 0074A).

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