Aerospace consultant bets on satellite launch demand

Aerospace consultant bets on satellite launch demand

Mumbai: India’s first private sector aerospace consulting firm is seeking to profit from overseas demand for satellite launch services that the nation’s space agency offers at a discount to what competitors charge.

The Indian Space Research Organisation, or Isro, can send a satellite weighing up to 200kg into low-earth orbit—between 160km and 2,000km above the surface—for about $15-20 million, according to Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and one of the two chief executives of Mumbai-based Earth2Orbit LLC.

Launching a satellite is 12-15% costlier in Europe, and 25-30% more expensive in the US. Russia used to offer launch services at rates comparable with India—but not any more, Mohanty said.

Earth2Orbit, which says it’s India’s first private sector aerospace consultancy, was set up in 2008 and helps satellite makers negotiate contracts with Isro and get regulatory clearances, besides transporting the communications device to the launch site.

Later this year, Isro will launch a satellite for Japan’s Osaka Institute of Technology, Mohanty’s first client.

Small satellites intended for low-earth orbit are typically used for observation, weather monitoring and telecommunication.

Mohanty, daughter of an Isro scientist and formerly part of flight crew support staff at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, has set up two aerospace firms overseas previously—Moonfront LLC, an aerospace consultancy in the US, and Liquifer Systems Group, an aerospace architecture design firm in Austria.

She says India is a strategic location, given that the country’s space programme undertakes four or five launches every year, and is cost-comparative in fabricating critical hardware locally.

“In India, we work closely with Antrix (Corp. Ltd) to procure launch services offered by Isro for our clients," Mohanty said.

Antrix is an Isro arm that promotes the commercial exploitation of services spun off from India’s space programme. Earth2Orbit helps it reach out to a global customer base.

“Associating with a firm like Earth2Orbit helps us in expanding our reach, especially in geographies like the US and Europe, where they are well networked," said K.R. Sridhara Murthi, executive director at Antrix.

Earth2Orbit also offers to design hardware components that act as a bridge between client satellites and the Isro launch vehicle. The designs are fabricated by manufacturing partners.

While aerospace consulting is getting competitive globally, Earth2Orbit is the lone private sector firm in India in a field dominated by government agencies. Mohanty is now hoping that a much-anticipated agreement between India and the US would allow private firms in the US to use Isro’s satellite launch services.

As many as 1,185 satellites—up from 800 in the previous decade—are to be built and launched by governments, companies and universities between 2009 and 2018, according to June 2009 estimates by Euroconsult, which specializes in researching the global satellite sector.

Nearly 41% of these are expected to be low-earth-orbit satellites, the kind Earth2Orbit specializes in. Euroconsult estimates revenue generated by the manufacturing and launch of these satellites at about $178 billion in 2009-2018.

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