Rocket startup Agnikul Cosmos opens first commercial launchpad in India

Capitalism in space: The Indian rocket startup Agnikul Cosmos has completed construction on the first privately owned launchpad in India, with the first suborbital launch planned before the end of this year.

Agnikul’s infrastructure comprises a launchpad and a Mission Control center 4 kilometres away, both within ISRO’s facilities on the island located off the coast of Chennai. The space pad was designed by Agnikul, constructed over two months, and is a part of the MoU signed between ISRO and Agnikul (among other space startups) under the new regulatory authority IN-SPACe’s first batch of support projects for private companies from ISRO.

Currently, it is capable of launching Agnikul’s rocket, the Agnibaan. [emphasis mine]

The first test launch is apparently not going to be orbital, but a technology test of the launch pad, its fueling facilities, and the 3D-printed engine Agnikul has built for Agnibaan.

The highlighted words once again note the effort by the Indian government to emulate the U.S. policy in the past decade to transition from a government-run space program to a privately-run competing and chaotic space industry. This MoU (memorandum of understanding) probably resembles the first space act agreements NASA issued to SpaceX and Orbital ATK. The agreements gave private companies aid and assistance, but the companies retained full ownership of what they build, and were left free to design things as they saw fit, not as the government dictated.

That two different Indian companies, Agnikul and Skyroot, are on the verge of their first orbital launches signals that this policy is succeeding. Agnikul has tested its engines and built its launchpad. Skyroot has completed its first suborbital launch.

India successfully places 1 satellite and 8 smallsats in orbit

Using its PSLV rocket, India’s space agency ISRO successfully launched one ocean science satellite plus eight smallsats into orbit early on November 26, 2022.

This was India’s fourth successful orbital launch in 2022, tying it with Europe’s Arianespace. The leaders in the 2022 launch race however remain the same:

53 SpaceX
52 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
8 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 77 to 52 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 81 to 77.

India about to do first drop test of its home-built version of an X-37B

India’s space agency ISRO is now preparing for the first drop test of its own home-built version of an X-37B mini-shuttle, designed to remain in orbit for a period of time, return to Earth on a runway, and then be reused.

According to ISRO officials, the RLV [Reusable Launch Vehicle] wing body will be carried using a helicopter to an altitude of three to five km and released at a distance of about four to five km ahead of the runway with a horizontal velocity. After the release, the RLV will glide, navigate towards the runway and land autonomously with a landing gear in the defence airfield near Chitradurga.

A prototype of the RLV was flown on a suborbital test flight in 2016, landing in the ocean. The pending test would be the first to attempt a runway landing, essential if the spacecraft is to safely return to Earth and then be reused.

India’s first private rocket company prepares for its first test suborbital launch

Skyroot, India’s first startup private rocket company, has now scheduled the first test launch of a suborbital version of its Vikram rocket for sometime between November 12the and 16th, depending on weather.

The rocket will be sent into space from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre spaceport in Sriharikota, off the Andhra Pradesh coast.

The space sector was opened up to facilitate private sector participation in 2020. In 2021, Skyroot became the first space technology startup to ink an MoU with ISRO for sharing facilities and expertise.

…The company’s COO & co-founder, Naga Bharath Daka, said “The Vikram-S rocket getting launched is a single-stage sub-orbital launch vehicle, which would carry three customer payloads and help test and validate the majority of technologies in our Vikram series of space launch vehicles.” The four-year-old Skyroot has successfully built and tested India’s first privately developed cryogenic, hypergolic-liquid, and solid fuel-based rocket engines. The R&D and production activities extensively use advanced composite and 3D-printing technologies.

The company has raised $51 million in private investment capital, the most ever raised by a private Indian rocket company.

OneWeb paid ISRO about $130 million for two GSLV launches

It appears that OneWeb agreed to pay India’s space agency ISRO about $130 million for two GSLV launches, putting up 36 satellites on each launch.

When asked how much his business would spend to have 72 satellites launched, OneWeb Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal told reporters in India that it would be more than Rs 1,000 crore.

Rs 1,000 crore translates to about $130 million, which means OneWeb paid about $65 million per launch, which is comparable to SpaceX’s standard Falcon 9 price, before discounts for using previously launched boosters.

It also appears that at present this deal is the only one between ISRO and OneWeb, and that the remaining 576 satellites that OneWeb needs to launch to complete its constellation are still open for others. At present, SpaceX and Relativity have contracts, though it is unclear how many each will launch. I suspect SpaceX will be the majority, since Relativity has not even completed its first test launch. It is also possible that ISRO will get more contracts based on its first launch success.

India’s GSLV-Mark3 rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites

India’s GSLV-Mark3 rocket, its most powerful, has successfully placed 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit. As of this writing, the first 16 of the 36 satellites had successfully deployed.

This was the first international commercial launch for the GSLV rocket, previously used exclusively for Indian launches. It was also the first launch of OneWeb satellites since its deal with Russia was broken off due to the Ukraine war. Though the company had also quickly signed SpaceX to resume launches, I suspect that since half of OneWeb is owned by a major Indian investment company, India was given favored treatment in determining who would launch first.

This was the third successful launch in 2022 for India, the most since that country shut down in 2020 due to its panic over the Wuhan flu.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race remains unchanged:

48 SpaceX
45 China
16 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 68 to 45, though it now trails the world combined 70 to 68.

Chandrayaan-3 now scheduled for summer 2023

India’s second attempt to put a rover on the surface of the Moon, Chandrayaan-3, has now been tentatively scheduled for launch in the summer of 2023.

The launch had originally been scheduled for launch in the fall of 2020, but was delayed when India shut down due to the Wuhan panic. Official at ISRO, India’s space agency, had hoped to launch by the summer of 2022, but that proved impossible. They have now delayed the mission a full year.

In fact, all earlier reports had indicated the rover was almost ready. This new delay of a full year suggests that some new issues might have been identified.

The news article at the link also notes that ISRO is now planning two unmanned orbital missions plus four launch abort tests before launching its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan, not two abort tests as previously planned. They are still targeting ’24 for the manned mission.

OneWeb gets deal to provide internet on airplanes

The competition heats up: OneWeb will partner with Panasonic Avionics — which already provides WiFi for 70 airlines — to use the satellite constellation as part of its airline service.

Adding LEO capabilities from OneWeb would enable pole-to-pole coverage with forward link speeds approaching 200 megabits per second (Mbps), according to Panasonic, and return link speeds up to 32 Mbps. Ben Griffin, OneWeb’s vice president for mobility services, said the deal enables the LEO operator to leverage Panasonic’s “reputation, expertise, and reach” to bring its network to airlines.

The agreement also paves the way for OneWeb’s services to be integrated into existing in-flight entertainment systems that Panasonic provides for aircraft.

Both OneWeb and Starlink now have deals to provide internet capabilities for airlines. The competition can only mean the cost to consumers on those planes will likely drop.

Meanwhile, India’s government commercial launch division, NSIL, is prepping a GSLV rocket to launch 36 OneWeb satellites for an October 22nd launch. This will be the first launch replacing the Russians as OneWeb’s launch provider. The launch path over the ocean (with a turn to avoid dropping debris on Sri Lanka) can be seen here.

India’s Mars orbiter mission ends after eight years

After eight years in orbit around Mars, India’s Mars orbiter mission, Mangalyaan, has run out of fuel for controlling its orientation, ending its mission.

The Rs 450 crore Mars Orbiter Mission was launched onboard PSLV-C25 on November five, 2013, and the MOM spacecraft was successfully inserted into Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 in its first attempt. “Right now, there is no fuel left. The satellite battery has drained,” sources in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told PTI. “The link has been lost”.

There was, however, no official word from the country’s national space agency, headquartered here.

During its mission it produced more than a thousand images, though the mission’s primary objective was technological, proving that India itself could design, build, launch, and manage a planetary mission to another world. For India, Mangalyaan was thus an unqualified success.

Indian smallsat rocket startup hopes to complete 1st launch this year

The new colonial movement: A new Indian private commercial rocket startup, Agnikul, now hopes to complete the first launch of its Agnibaan rocket before the end of 2022.

Whether or not this launch happens this year, the important thing is the existence of this private independent rocket company in India. Up until now, India’s government space bureaucracy in ISRO, and in its new commercial arm, NSIL, has controlled all of that country’s commercial market share. Like NASA before 2008, it has worked aggressively to keep independent players out.

Agnikul’s existence suggests the Modi government’s effort to emulate the U.S. and create an independent private space industry is beginning to bear fruit. If so, expect big things over the next decade from India in space.

OneWeb announces delivery of 36 satellites to India for launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday announced the delivery of 36 satellites to India for launch on that nation’s biggest rocket, the GSLV-Mark3.

Though no date for launch was mentioned, the press release did say this:

One additional launch will take place this year and three more are targeted for early next year to complete the constellation.

This suggests two launches before the end of the year, one by India with the second already contracted to SpaceX. As for the three launches next year, it is unclear yet who will launch them. OneWeb has contracts with SpaceX, Relativity, and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of India’s government space program which is doing this year’s GSLV launch. While Relativity has not yet launched, either SpaceX or NSIL could handle those launches for sure next year.

India’s space agency successfully tests prototype for controlling descent of spent 1st stages

IAD by ISRO

India’s space agency ISRO on September 3, 2022 successfully used a suborbital sounding rocket to test a prototype of an inflatable airbag, which it dubs an Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (IAD), that can inflate at the top of a 1st stage and slow and control its descent back to Earth after launch.

The graphic to the right was adapted from the mission brochure [pdf]. According to ISRO:

The IAD was initially folded and kept inside the payload bay of the rocket. At around 84 km altitude, the IAD was inflated and it descended through atmosphere with the payload part of sounding rocket. The pneumatic system for inflation was developed by LPSC. The IAD has systematically reduced the velocity of the payload through aerodynamic drag and followed the predicted trajectory. This is first time that an IAD is designed specifically for spent stage recovery. All the objectives of the mission were successfully demonstrated

ISRO claims this design can not only facilitate the reuse of first stages, it can also be used for science payloads to Mars and Venus.

I look at this and wonder, wouldn’t parachutes or parasails, already developed and used numerous times in similar applications, do the same job? In fact, Rocket Lab has already successfully used parachutes to control the re-entry of its Electron first stages. Meanwhile, SpaceX uses simple and lightweight grid fins to control the descent of its Falcon 9 first stages, and simply fires that stage’s engines twice to slow it down for landing.

While there may be engineer advantages to this airbag design, the whole thing smacks of many of NASA’S complex test programs that never made it past prototype tests. The ideas always looked good, but they never were practical or cost effective.

Indian rocket startup raises $51 million in private investment capital

Capitalism in space: The Indian rocket startup Skyroot has just raised $51 million in private investment capital for the development of its smallsat rocket, Vikram-1.

Operating as a private aerospace manufacturer and commercial launch service provider in the country, the Hyderabad-headquartered startup has been working on its flagship Vikram series of small-life launch vehicles. The first among them, the Vikram 1, is slated to take to the skies by the end of the year and launch small satellites to space.

The $51 million is the most any private aerospace commercial company from India has ever raised in a single funding round.

Though the Modi government has publicly encouraged the development of a private, independent, commercial aerospace industry, India’s bureaucracy has generally acted to block this effort. In 2019 it convinced the government to create New Space India Limited (NSIL), a wholly government-owned entity which is designed to retain as much control over commercial market share as possible. As recently as one month ago, the NSIL webpage described itself as aiming to “capture” that commercial market. That revealed its purpose too obviously, so the website was rewritten to now say its goal is to “spur” the Indian aerospace sector.

Because NSIL gets government money and has full control over all of India’s already developed government rockets and space facilities, it has an enormous advantage, which acts to discourage investment in new private companies such as Skyroot. This is a similar situation that existed in the U.S. for more than a half century following Apollo. NASA had the resources, controlled all launches, and thus made private investment for independent companies hard to obtain.

This only changed when NASA began awarding contracts to private companies in 2008, whereby the rockets and spacecraft produced were not owned or designed by NASA. And NASA was only forced to do so because Elon Musk happened to have enough of his own money to finance SpaceX himself.

When ISRO (India’s agency) or NSIL begin awarding contracts like this, then company’s like Skyroot will begin to blossom.

Indian research project for China’s space station threatened by Chinese-India military conflict

A science instrument from India, slated to fly on a Chinese rocket to China’s Tiangong-3 space station, is now threatened by the military tensions between the two nations.

The project, called Spectrographic Investigation of Nebular Gas (SING), also involves collaboration with the [India] Institute of Astronomy [IIA], Russian Academy of Sciences, and has been designed and developed by research students at the IIA. The plan is to have it ready by the year end so that it can be launched in the summer of 2023. Though the plan is on schedule, scientists at the IIA are now consulting with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as well as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on whether they are in the clear to go ahead with the project.

Chinese and Indian troops have been engaged in a prolonged stand-off in eastern Ladakh. The two sides have so far held 16 rounds of Corps Commander-level talks to resolve the stand-off, which erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area.

It appears the Indian government is having second thoughts about this cooperative project. After decades of naive trust in the communists from both Russia and China, it seems India has finally realized the communists really have little interest in helping India, being more focused on using it for good PR while it steals Indian technology. Moreover, India now realizes that China has become a dangerous neighbor, willing to use its newfound power violently at the border between the two countries.

Indian company delivers Gaganyaan fairing and high altitude launch abort motor to ISRO

Capitalism in space: The Indian private company, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, yesterday delivered to India’s space agency ISRO the fairing and high altitude launch abort motor that will be used in Gaganyaan, that nation’s first manned spaceflight.

Though the article at the link does not say so, the fairings and abort motor will likely be used in one of two unmanned launch abort test flights ISRO intends to do before the actual manned mission, now set for sometime in ’24.

Hindustan Aeronautics is also a space company in India that will require watching. It not only built these major components for Gaganyaan, it also has built major components for India’s PSLV and GSLV rockets. It would not surprise me if the company eventually decides to build its own rocket, assuming the India government loosens the stranglehold it presently has over space and lets private companies compete against its government space operations. It was a similar stranglehold by NASA from the 1970s to the 2000s that squelched competition and innovation from the American private aerospace industry. When that ended, the renaissance in commercial space finally could begin.

UPDATE: It appears I was in error assuming Hindustan Aeronauts was a private company, as it is owned by the Indian government. I have edited the post above to reflect this. It appears the stranglehold the government has over India’s aerospace industry is no closer to loosening.

China’s radar ship finally docks in Sri Lanka

Despite objections by India and an initial refusal by the Sri Lanka government to allow a Chinese military communications/radar ship to dock at one of Sri Lanka’s ports, the ship was finally allowed to dock yesterday.

Sri Lanka, which needs the support of both India and China as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades, initially granted the ship permission for a five-day replenishment stay in Hambantota, from Aug. 11.

It later asked China to delay the vessel’s arrival, citing the need for more consultations.

Yuan Wang 5 will now berth for only three days to stock up on fuel, food and other essentials, said an official at the port who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The ship is used by China to track satellites, rockets, and missiles, both its own and other nations.

Sri Lanka is caught between a rock and a hard place. The country is bankrupt, its citizens facing starvation due to the previous government’s imposition of numerous green environmental policies that destroyed its agriculture industry. It has also taken aid from both India (providing military hardware) and China (which built the port and holds a 99-year lease to operate it), and neither looks kindly at the other.

Sri Lanka blocks docking of Chinese spy ship as requested by India

The new Sri Lankan government, at the request of India, has rescinded the permission granted by the previous government that would have allowed a Chinese satellite tracking ship to dock at one of its ports.

In a written request, the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry told the Chinese Embassy in Colombo not to go ahead with the visit, said an official involved in the process. “The Ministry wishes to request that the arrival date of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Hambantota to be deferred until further consultations are made on this matter,” the request says.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe assured political leaders on Friday that the visit will not go ahead as planned.

The previous government, recently overthrown by a citizen revolt because of its green policies that produced starvation and bankruptcy throughout the nation, had agreed to the docking, changing years of cooperation with India. Apparently the new government has decided to renew that Indian alliance.

India in turn wishes to limit China’s ability to spy on its own satellites and operations in space.

India’s new SSLV rocket fails on first launch attempt

Delayed years because of India’s panic over the Wuhan flu, the first launch of that country’s new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) failed today when the rocket’s fourth stage apparently did not fire its engines properly.

The problem appeared to be the SSLV’s terminal stage, called the velocity trimming module (VTM). According to the launch profile, the VTM was supposed to have burnt for 20 seconds at 653 seconds after launch. However, it burnt for only 0.1 seconds, denying the rocket of the requisite altitude boost. Two satellites onboard the rocket – the primary EOS-2 Earth-observing satellite and the secondary AzaadiSAT student satellite – separated from the vehicle after the VTM burnt.

As a result, the two satellites were put in an orbit that was too low, which quickly decayed, destroying both.

Since this launch failed, I do not count it in the launch totals for 2022.

Considering that this was SSLV’s first launch, it was in that sense a test, and a failure therefore is not unexpected. India’s real problem is that the launch was delayed so long because of the Wuhan panic, thus allowing other competitors to catch up and pass India. While it is certain ISRO will try again, and eventually succeed, it will not get the market share it would have had, had it launched in 2020 as originally planned.

India inaugurates its own space debris tracking facility

ISRO, India’s government space agency, today inaugurated its own space debris tracking facility, designed to track space junk much as the Space Force does in the U.S.

A new facility dubbed the System for Safe & Sustainable Operation has been inaugurated in Bengaluru that will deal with emerging threats from space debris.

The new facility will help India achieve its Space Situational Awareness (SSA) goals by providing comprehensive and timely information about the space environment. The system will alert the agency about probabilities of in-orbit collisions, fragmentation, atmospheric re-entry risk, space-based strategic information, hazardous asteroids and space weather forecasts.

Though China might have its own comparable facility, I am unsure. Even if it does, the U.S. military has been for decades the only nation that does this tracking and then provides the data to the world, at no cost. That India is now developing its own capability signals that nation’s desire to chart its own path in space that does not depend on the resources of others.

This facility also signals the shift in ISRO’s job. Before, this government agency built and owned India’s rockets, flying commercial missions for profit. Now, the Modi government wants to transfer those tasks to India’s private sector, with ISRO merely acting as a customer if it needs such services. This change however will reduce ISRO’s influence, something that factions within India’s government are resisting. By giving ISRO the new task of tracking space debris, the Modi government gives ISRO new responsibilities to replace the ones it is losing. This will ease the turf war and speed the transition to a competing commercial industry.

India’s PSLV rocket completes launch, putting nine satellites into orbit

India’s PSLV rocket successfully placed nine satellites into orbit today, completing that country’s second launch in 2022.

Since the Wuhan panic arrived in 2020, India’s space program has slowed to a crawl. Beforehand, it had been averaging six launches per year with the expectation that in 2020 it might double that number. Furthermore, the PSLV rocket had been a major player in the emerging smallsat market, routinely putting one to three dozen smallsats into orbit with each launch, with one launch in 2017 putting a record 104 smallsats into orbit.

Then the Wuhan panic arrived and everything stopped. Today’s PSLV launch was only its fifth launch since 2019. With almost all launches canceled, India’s smallsat business moved to SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and other rocket companies that did not panic and continued to launch.

Today’s launch however might signal a renewal. It was not managed by India’s old space agency, ISRO, but a new government agency called NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), which is supposedly focused on encouraging the growth of India’s commercial aerospace sector, independent of the government. Whether a government agency can accomplish such a task in India remains entirely unknown.

The leader board in the 2022 launch race remains the same:

27 SpaceX
21 China
8 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 37 to 21 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 37 to 34.

A ULA Atlas-5 launch later today could change these numbers.

OneWeb to resume satellite launches this year, complete constellation by mid-2023

Capitalism in space: According to one OneWeb official at a conference yesterday, the company now expects to resume launching its satellites on SpaceX and Indian rockets by the fourth quarter of this year and will complete its constellation by the second quarter of next year.

Launches were suspended when Russia refused to do a launch — and confiscated the 36 satellites — after Europe imposed sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Speaking at the Fourth Summit for Space Sustainability by the Secure World Foundation and the U.K. Space Agency, Maurizio Vanotti, vice president of space infrastructure development and partnerships at OneWeb, said new launch agreements with SpaceX and NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL) would allow the company to launch the remaining satellites of its first-generation system by the second quarter of 2023.

“Our plan is to be back on the launch pad in quarter four, after the summer, and to complete deployment of the constellation by quarter two next year,” he said. It will take several months after that final launch for the satellites to move to their operational orbits, he added. “We’re going to be in service with global coverage, 24/7, by the end of next year,” he said.

At present OneWeb has not revealed the breakdown of launches from the two companies.

India’s first private satellite manufacturing facility opens

Capitalism in space: At a ceremony today that included officials from the government, the private commercial company ANANTH opened India’s first private satellite manufacturing facility.

Located at Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board Aerospace Park, Bengaluru, the new establishment is equipped with clean rooms for spacecraft sub-systems manufacturing and is large enough to cater to four spacecraft simultaneously.

This unveiling is part of India’s effort to transition from a government-built space effort to one run by the private sector. In the past all satellite construction in India was designed, managed, and owned by India’s space agency ISRO. This facility will now take over that function, and do so not only for ISRO but for any private company that wishes to have a satellite built.

India’s press: End the endless launch delays at ISRO

The new colonial movement: An op-ed yesterday in one of India’s major news outlets demanded that its space agency ISRO end the launch delays that have now gone for more than two years since the beginning of the Wuhan panic, and get a number of military satellites into orbit.

The details are not really that important. What this op-ed suggests is that India’s press, and possibly its public, is now beginning to lose patience with ISRO’S reluctance to resume launches. It also suggests their own fear of the Wuhan flu has subsided.

The bottom line is that India has lost a lot of business in the past two years by its refusal to launch, especially in the smallsat market, and the only chance it has to regain that business is to resume launches, with a vengence.

India delays launch of manned mission to do two abort tests first

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO has decided to delay the launch of its Gaganyaan manned orbital mission at least one more year (until ’24) in order to do two abort tests of the capsule.

“The first Test Vehicle for this purpose is ready and we will launch it in September this year. The human capsule will be sent up 15 kilometres, we will simulate an abort and then the capsule will be safely brought down by parachutes into the sea,’’ Somanath, who is also Secretary, Department of Space, said.

The second Test Vehicle will be launched in December this year, sent to a greater height and then brought back after a similar simulation is carried out.

The mission had originally been scheduled to launch in ’22, but was delayed significantly by India’s panic over Wuhan.

More Chinese space junk crashes in India

It appears that debris from an upper stage of a Chinese Long March 3B rocket, launched in September ’21, fell in India on May 12, 2022.

Local media reported that the objects crashed with “loud thuds that shook the ground” in Gujarat. There were no casualties or property damage, according to The Indian Express. The crashed objects were all discovered within a 15-kilometer radius, and among them was a black metal ball weighing around five kilograms, the newspaper said.

Though the sources objects have not been identified with certainty, they look like inner tanks from a rocket, and the only object that reentered the atmosphere on this date and also had an orbit that crossed this part of India was the Long March 3B.

This is second time in less than a month that debris from an abandoned Chinese upper stage has crashed in India. Both are thought to have come from Long March 3Bs. More important, both now prove that China has no protocols when it launches these rockets to de-orbit the upper stages in a controlled manner.

Stay tuned for more Chinese space junk heading your way. In the next seven months it will launch two Long March 5B rockets, the large core stage of which reaches orbit. In all of the previous 5B launches, that stage — big enough to hit the Earth — then quickly fell back in an uncontrolled and unpredictable manner. Fortunately, each time it crashed in the ocean, though the May 2020 deorbit ended up with some debris landing near villages in Africa.

Recent tests of the 5B’s core stage’s engine have suggested that China might have redesigned it to allow it to be restarted, which would allow them to control its deorbit. This fact however has not been confirmed.

ISRO successfully tests human-rated solid rocket booster

India’s space agency ISRO announced on May 13, 2022 that it had successfully tested the man-rated version of the solid rocket strap-on booster used on its GSLV Mark 3 rocket that will launch its first manned mission into space.

The 20 m long and 3.2 m diameter booster is the world’s second-largest operational booster with solid propellant. During this test, about 700 parameters were monitored and the performance of all the systems was normal.

Launch of the Gaganyaan manned mission is now targeting ’23.

The future factions in space become clearer

Based on two stories yesterday, it appears that the future alliances between nations in space are now beginning to sort themselves out.

First there was the signing ceremony announcement of Columbia becoming the nineteenth nation to sign the Artemis Accords with the U.S. and the third Latin American country to do so.

The Artemis Accords were created by the Trump administration as an international treaty to bypass the restrictions on private property imposed by the Outer Space Treaty. By signing bilateral agreements with as many nations as possible, the U.S. thus creates a strong alliance able to protect those rights in space.

The full list of signatories so far: Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine, and the United States.

In the second story, France and India — both of whom have so far resisted signing the Artemis Accords — announced their own bilateral agreement intended to strengthen their partnership across many fronts, from security to economic development to the Ukraine war. The agreement also included this paragraph on the subject of space:
» Read more

ISRO hires company to build future PSLV rockets

Capitalism in space: For the first time, India’s space agency ISRO is about to hire a private company to build five PSLV rockets, rather than supervise the construction in-house.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and L&T consortium has emerged as the lowest bidder to make 5 Polar Space Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) for ISRO. “The company is the lead partner with L&T sharing the work. Other vendors too will be involved with the consortium in the manufacturing of the launch vehicles (LVs). However, the contract is yet to be formalised/ awarded,” HAL said in a statement.

If all goes as planned, the first rockets will be delivered late in ’24.

This contract changes less than it seems, though it is a step in the right direction. ISRO has for years hired private subcontractors to build its rockets and components. What is different now is that it appears that HAL is now the lead contractor, not ISRO. HAL however does not appear to own the rockets it builds, and thus will not be able to build more to sell launches to others. Until this happens, India’s space industry will remain wholly government run.

ISRO once again delays first launch of its new SSLV rocket

India’s space agency ISRO today announced that it is once again delaying the first launch of its new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) rocket.

This rocket, designed to launch cubesats and compete with private companies like Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra, was first going to launch in the summer of 2019. That launch was delayed until 2020, only to be blocked entirely for two more years because of India’s panic over the Wuhan flu.

Last month ISRO announced the successful completion of static fire tests of the rocket’s solid rocket first stage, suggesting a spring launch in ’22 would occur. That has now been delayed again, now targeting early summer.

The delays have cost India a great deal in market share. Had SSLV launched in 2020, it would have been well positioned to garner business now captured by Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra, the latter two of which were not yet operational at that time. Now India trails all these companies, with other American companies (Firefly, Relativity, ABL) on the horizon as well.

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