NEW DELHI :
Even as attention is riveted on India’s upcoming Moon landing, the country’s space agency is hard at work on the commercial front, developing a rocket that will deliver small satellites to the Earth’s orbit.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is planning the inaugural flight of its indigenously developed Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) by year end. The SSLV is being designed by Indian scientists to carry smaller commercial satellites into the low-earth orbit less than 2,000 km above the earth’s surface.
“Isro is always chasing a target. Work on SSLV is going on in full steam. We are targeting a December launch for the vehicle," chairman K. Sivan had said after Chandrayaan-2, India’s second moon mission entered the lunar orbit.
Isro has launched most of its customer satellites with its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). From 1994 to 2015, PSLV has launched as many as 84 satellites, of which 51 were for international customers, as per the agency.
However, the tight launch schedule of PSLV and the unavailability of the launch vehicle has often deterred the agency from accepting several foreign satellites. Most of the private customer satellites, usually nano-satellites, were launched as additional payloads during a main PSLV mission. The SSLV, which can carry 500 kg to the low earth orbit, can be assembled within days by a smaller team and at a drastically reduced price as compared to PSLV.
“This was long awaited. A separate launch vehicle was required to meet this growing demand from private agencies, including giants like Google and Amazon who want to put their satellites into orbit without waiting much. Since SSLV is designed for multiple orbital drop-offs, it’s well-suited to meet these demands," said group captain Ajai Lele (retired), senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
Isro has already demonstrated its skills of launching multiple satellites. In January 2017, it launched a record 104 satellites with a single rocket. With the demand for space-based services increasing, Isro also offers advantages as an effective and low-cost option. “Unlike other space agencies, India also has a quick turnaround time, in a way that the agency can return to the launch pad within few months of a successful take-off. This serves well for private agencies which do not want to wait longer. Most importantly, it is cost-effective," said Lele.