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Isro plans to launch first privately built satellite by March

Isro has received more than 40 responses to a proposal to partner with private firms to jointly build a satellite and eventually transfer satellite-making technology

Isro sets record with launch of 20 satellites

Alnoor Peermohamed Bengaluru
India’s space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), plans to launch a navigation satellite that it would build jointly with a private firm, by March next year, beginning a process to outsource satellite manufacturing and free its resources to focus on research and deep space missions.

Isro has received over 40 responses to a tender floated to invite private firms to jointly build a satellite and eventually transfer satellite-making technology for local and global needs.

The space agency plans to hand-hold vendors to jointly build, test and certify two navigation satellites that it would launch to join the fleet of seven Navic satellites already in space.

India, based on current needs, requires to launch a satellite every month over the next five to seven years to meet growing needs of local customers for direct-to-home (DTH) broadcast, mapping applications for urban and disaster planning, and communication services.

At the same time, Isro is also sensing an opportunity to replicate India’s success in IT outsourcing in building satellites for global firms and launching them from Indian soil. There is a global surge in new satellite companies such as One Web, Google-owned Terra Bella, Planet Labs — which was founded by three former NASA scientists,  Chris Boshuizen, Will Marshall, and Robbie Schingler — Spire Global, Space X, and Millennium Space Systems, who collectively plan to launch over 2,500 new satellites over the next few years.  

Bulk of them are small and mini satellites for areas such as remote sensing and navigation, disaster management, intelligence gathering and providing high-speed internet services.  

In June, Isro had invited over 100 firms, majority of them component and systems suppliers such as Godrej Aerospace, Tata Advanced Material Systems, Hindustan Aeronautics, and Bengaluru-based Avasarala Technologies to showcase satellite-making opportunity to meet both local and global needs.

“We will identify a few stakeholders, develop them and give them certification. The sheer quantity (of satellites required) itself dictates we have to sustain them (partnership with vendors),” M Annadurai, director of Isro satellite centre, said.

Research and Markets estimated in May that the global opportunity for small and mini satellites would grow nearly one and half times to $5.32 billion by 2021. In 2016, the market was estimated to be worth $ 2.22 billion.

For Isro, a few firms based in Silicon Valley such as Planet Labs, Terra Labs and Spire Global are customers of Isro, using the PSLV rocket to hurl satellites into space. Now, Isro is looking to expand the relationship with them and other firms to make satellites locally in India.

“Our target is to realise this satellite before March, that means before October we should be ready to identify who will be the first set of vendors,” Annadurai said. “We are planning to develop vendors who can possibly take over the first satellite with hand holding from Isro.”

Isro is also stitching an industry consortium that it expects to build and launch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) by 2020, while it focuses on developing newer rockets to bring down the cost of transport to space.

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First Published: Sep 03 2016 | 10:36 PM IST

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