Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), has orders from seven countries to launch 28 satellites. However, it might struggle to take up more business, as the space agency faces capacity constraints, including lack of heavier rockets.
Isro, which has emerged as a globally competitive launch provider, uses its workhorse rocket, the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), to transport research and earth-observation satellites into the lower-earth orbit. PSLV has launched 45 satellites for foreign customers, including Friday’s launch of five British satellites for a unit of EADS Astrium, Europe’s largest satellite maker.
“If we are looking for more launches for commercial purpose, one of the issues we need to tackle is the capacity to build more and do launches in a given time,” said A S Kiran Kumar, chairman of Isro. “We are working on increasing the frequency of launches from Sriharikota and increasing the realisation of a larger amount of large vehicles in a given time.”
Isro sends an average of three rockets a year from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, the spaceport at Sriharikota near Chennai. This year, it has scheduled four rocket missions, including the two it has already launched.
Isro had recorded a major success in January 2014, when GSLV Mk-II, with an indigenous cryogenic upper stage, placed an experimental communications satellite into space. This followed about two decades of development and a couple of failures and delays due to US sanctions on Russia for sharing cryogenic engines with India. Isro needs two more launches of GSLV-MkII that can carry two-tonne communication satellites before it can send its own commercial communications satellites to space using the rocket.
Isro uses the services of Arianespace, a European rocket firm capable of launching heavier satellites, to transport its communication satellites.
In December, Isro tested a technology demonstrator of GSLV Mk-III, a bigger rocket that can carry four-tonne satellites to space. India’s Humanspace flight programme (sending a man to space) also depends on the progress of the GSLV-MkIII rocket.
“So far, we have been doing four to five launches a year and we need to go up to 10 launches,” Kumar said. The existing launches include sending commercial satellites on an arianespace rocket.
Antrix says it has 28 more satellites from six to seven countries, to be executed through the next three years. “And, more and more customers are coming to us for launch,” says V S Hegde, chairman and managing director, Antrix Corporation.
This year, another commercial launch, of satellites from Singapore, would be carried out, he adds.