ISRO ‘ready to support’ private rocket-launching companies

M. Ramesh | | Updated on: Sep 04, 2019
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Will invest to create this capability, says Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Director


The Indian Space Research Organisation will have no problems supporting private sector involvement in space activity, including rocket companies that offer satellite launch services, a senior ISRO official has said.

“We will be fully supporting this activity; we will invest and create this capability,” S Somnath, Director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, a unit of ISRO, said on Saturday.

Speaking at a conference of start-ups in the space business, organised here by the Chennai chapter of The Indus Entprepreneurs (TiE), a not-for-profit global entity that aims to foster entrepreneurship, Somnath said, “I want to assure you that we will not create any issues for you.” He stressed that ISRO wanted to be a role model for private sector players.


Somnath said ISRO was in the process of handing over the complete manufacture of the PSLV rocket to the private sector. A call for Expression of Interest has been issued. Up till now, ISRO has been getting private companies, such as Walchandnagar Industries, Godrej Space and L&T, to make sub-systems for its rockets that ISRO would assemble at its facility. But, in future, the entire manufacture and launch of the PSLV could be handed over to the private sector. “We are progressively going that way,” he said.

Later, speaking to BusinessLine , Somnath said that for the private sector to get into rocket launching, Parliament would have to pass the Space Activities Bill. Apart from big companies that might want to make large rockets, at least three start-ups are attempting to build small rockets — Agnikul Cosmos of Chennai, Skyroot of Hyderabad, and Bellatrix of Bengaluru. While the first two are working on building small rockets for small satellite launch services, Bellatrix is focussed on an electric propulsion engine for in-space manoeuvring of satellites.

Though in their formative stage, Agnikul and Skyroot are on the right track, Somnath observed. “I have seen their documentation (designs of the rockets) and they are really inspiring to me,” he said. While the space agency’s two launch pads are booked solid for its own launches — next year it intends to launch 12 PSLV rockets

ISRO’s small rocket

ISRO is ready to provide ground control and tracking services to private launchers.

Estimates are that 15,000 satellites will be launched in the next 6-9 years, at an estimated value of $150 billion. ISRO wants a slice of this booming market. Its Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) is expected to be ready by the year-end or early next year.

The cost of developing this rocket, Somnath said, is about one-hundredth of what it cost ISRO to develop the workhorse, PSLV; but launching a satellite via the SSLV will not be cheap, he said.

“Cost per kg will not be cheap; we are not calling it a low-cost launch, but a high-availability rocket,” he said. ISRO needs no more than ten days notice to assemble an SSLV. This four-stage rocket will have three stages powered by solid fuel and the top (small) one by a liquid fuel. It can carry satellites of up to 500 kg to low-earth orbits. This rocket will be got ready within two years of conceptualisation. In contrast, it took ISRO 12 years to get PSLV and GSLV Mk III, nearly twice as much time as targetted.

Published on September 04, 2019

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