India Business
Indian rockets in global launch market
Apr 29, 2007 - 12:48:46 PM

Bangalore, April 29 - India is now in the multi-billion dollar global launch market after the successful launch of an Italian satellite that was put into polar orbit by an Indian rocket earlier this month.

India is the fifth after the US, Russia, Ukraine and the European Space Agency - to have the capability of launching spacecraft of any kind into polar and geo-stationary orbits, officials of the Indian Space Research Organisation - say.

'Since the April 23 launch of AGILE -, there have been some enquiries for our launch services. We are in talks with a couple of customers. It is too early to disclose -. The process may take a couple of months,' ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair told IANS over the telephone from Thiruvananthapuram.

By launching the 352 kg AGILE, using a four-stage 2.3-tonne polar satellite launch vehicle -, inclined at an angle of 2.5 degree to the equator, ISRO has demonstrated its expertise to put a satellite into an equatorial circular orbit of 550 km.

'The 44-metre PSLV-C8 mission was unique in many respects. It was for the first time a core-alone rocket was flown without the six strap-on motors of the first stage. It was our first major commercial launch contract that was won against stiff international competition,' Nair pointed out.

The ISRO's launch facility, christened the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, is located at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 90 km from Chennai and off the Bay of Bengal. The SHAR range boasts of two launch pads for PSLV and GSLV - rockets that carry payloads into polar and geo-stationary orbits.

'Besides the Italian space agency, members of the space club were highly appreciative of our launch capabilities. Prospective customers find our launch technology reliable. The feedback has been encouraging to take up more commercial launches,' Nair stated.

Asked whether ISRO has bagged a contract to launch an Israeli satellite in polar orbit, as reported in a section of the media, Nair said it would be unfair to name any country or customer when no such deal had been finalised yet.

'We are in talks with some customers. It would not be prudent to name any of them at a time when discussions are on. Suffice it to say we are in the global market for a share of the launch pie,' Nair asserted.

Unconfirmed reports mentioned that ISRO is set to launch a 300 kg Israeli satellite named Polaris that is intended to take pictures of earth through cloud and rain round the clock. The Israeli space agency is reported to be keen on a PSLV with a core alone configuration -, similar to the PSLV-C8 used by ISRO for launching the Italian satellite.

Even as the Indian space agency pitches for commercial launches, Nair said the organisation was currently focusing on launching the Insat-4CR into the geo-stationary orbit, using the GSLV Mark-II in August-September.

'The Insat-4CR will be followed by two PSLV launches to put Cartosat-2A and six small satellites from Canada into the polar orbit. The latter will be a full-fledged commercial launch,' Nair added.

According to K.R. Sridhar Murthi, executive director of Antrix Corporation Ltd, the marketing agency of ISRO, India is braced for snapping up lucrative contracts to launch payloads in sub-two tonne class - and sub-three tonne class -.

'The market for launching satellites is estimated to be about $1.5 billion per annum. We are in the race for bagging a couple of satellites for commercial launches in the next 12-18 months,' Murthi said.

For the AGILE launch, Antrix charged the Italian space agency a whopping $29,000 per kg, as the scientific satellite had to be put into a specific orbit of about 550 km at an inclination of 2.5 degrees to the equator.

'It was a difficult orbit at a low inclination. That is why we have charged a premium though international rates for launching a satellite vary between $10,000-15,000 per kg for polar orbits and over $20,000 per kg for geo-stationary orbits,' Murthi disclosed.

The launch costs from Sriharikota are estimated to be 30-35 percent cheaper than from other launch pads worldwide.

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