India, China battle for satellite launch market

India, China battle for satellite launch market

Asian space rivals India and China are wooing nations in Europe, Asia and Latin America to build and launch satellites from their homegrown rockets, as they aim for a larger share of the multi-billion dollar global space market.

India is offering its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) at nearly 75% of the price charged by companies such as International Launch Services (ILS). ILS is owned by Space Transport Inc. and two Russian organizations, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, and RSC Energia of Moscow. ILS launches satellites on a Proton rocket from Russia.

India has launched six foreign satellites into polar orbit, including Agile, a 352kg scientific satellite of the Italian space agency, and has contracts for three communication satellites from European satellite maker EADS ­Astrium.

The PSLV rocket will also launch an Israeli earth observation satellite by December. “This business will grow," said G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of space agency Indian Space Research Organization (Isro).

“Right now, we can carry small satellites of less than 100kg to nearly 2.25 tonnes capacity," said Nair, whose agency will undertake 60 missions over the next five years.

The global satellite manufacturing and launch industry is expected to grow to $145 billion (Rs5.77 trillion) for the next decade from $116 billion in the last decade, according to Paris-based research firm Euroconsult.

It expects demand to come largely from the US, European nations, Russia, Japan, China and India.

China Great Wall Industry Group, the marketing arm for China’s space industry, said customers from Africa and Latin America are looking to China to build, launch and operate satellites for up to 15 years.

“We are cheaper compared to Europe’s Arianespace," said Hua Chongzi, Great Wall’s vice-president, but did not divulge financial details.

China has launched 33 foreign satellites in 27 rocket missions since 1980.

The Chinese agency has orders to build and launch communication satellites of Venezuela—Venesat-1–and Paksat-1 for Pakistan by 2009, Hua said.

Several private companies such as London-based Commercial Space Technologies market services of Russian and Ukrainian launch pads to global customers. “It is the service and price customers look for. The market is open for all," said Mali Perera, a spokesperson for Commercial Space Technologies, which has brokered to launch eight satellites since 1995.

India’s stable rocket platforms have attracted interest from Arianespace, which said that it would use India’s rockets to launch smaller satellites as it focuses on the heavier satellites of close to 10 tonnes.

Meanwhile, India plans a heavier rocket GSLV Mk-III to carry satellites of close to 4.5 tonnes at an orbit of 36,000km above the earth by 2009.

“Then we will have roughly about 30-40% reduction in the cost per kg, compared with what it is today. We will be able to be more competitive in the international market," said Nair.

Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of Isro, earned $11 million from the launch of Agile. The company earned revenue of Rs600 crore for the fiscal year ended March 2007.

“Two more satellites of Agile class will be launched by 2009," said K.R. Sridhara Murthi, executive director of Antrix, but declined to provide more details.

C.R. Sukumar contributed to this story.