Home / Science / News /  ISRO’s new mission sets precedent for public-private alliance

NEW DELHI : Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C53 that was launched on Thursday with three satellites in its primary payload is the first official public-private collaboration for a space launch in India.

The three satellites from Singapore were launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh as part of a contract signed by ISRO through its commercial arm New Space India Ltd.

The PSLV-C53 rocket also carried two instruments belonging to private Indian space startups, Digantara and Dhruva Space, which were a part of the mission’s secondary payload and part of its Polar Orbital Experiment Module (POEM). The inclusion of the two laid the ground for more public-private partnerships, to be facilitated by the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe).

While the primary payload refers to the main satellites launched in a mission, secondary payloads include additional satellites that fly with a mission alongside the primary payload, to maximize utilization of space infrastructure.

IN-SPACe is a nodal agency appointed by the Department of Space, which can authorize a non-government entity to use ISRO’s infrastructure and resources, including ISRO’s launch facilities.

Digantara is building “maps for space", said Anirudh Sharma, the company’s chief executive. To do this, the company is working on creating a map of space radiations, debris, orbits and other related conditions. Eventually, Digantara plans to deploy a constellation of 40 space weather sensing satellites and supply the data to commercial space operators for a fee.

Dhruva, on the other hand, seeks to be a private satellite operator, offering full-stack satellite development, launch, deployment, operation and maintenance services to clients worldwide. With ISRO’s PSLV, the company tested its satellite deployment ability through its proprietary interface.

Speaking in an interview ahead of the launch, Digantara’s Sharma said IN-SPACe helped facilitate access to ISRO’s Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management (DSSAM), which helped it build its core technology.

Prior to signing the initial agreement with ISRO, Digantara was initially planning to launch its technology demonstrator satellite (TD-Sat) with US-based private space operator, SpaceX. “There were fewer hurdles to jump (for launching with an international private operator), which is why we were in talks with them," said Sharma.

He said that it is here that IN-SPACe contributed—helping streamline the process, clarify regulatory hurdles and facilitate contact for public-private partnerships in space. Dhruva’s Nekkanti said that following its CubeSat deployment in orbit on Thursday, the company has already signed an agreement with NSIL to launch its first official missions, called Thybolt-1 and Thybolt-2, aboard ISRO’s next commercial mission—the PSLV-C54.


Shouvik Das

Shouvik Das is a science, space and technology reporter for Mint and TechCircle. In his previous stints, he worked at publications such as CNN-News18 and Outlook Business. He has also reported on consumer technology and the automobile sector.
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