India’s recent feat in space has set a new record. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) PSLV-C34 launch ejected 20 satellites into the polar orbit, earning a name as the bulk provider of reliable launches at moderate price tags.
In 2008, ISRO placed 10 satellites in the orbit, and it has been upping the space mission since then. On Wednesday’s launch, barring one government satellite, the rest belonged to others. Two of them, Sathyabamasat and Swayam, were two amateur Indian satellites built by students of Chennai’s Sathyabama University and Pune’s College of Engineering.
The rocket carried Twelve Dove satellites of former NASA employee’s Planet Labs (US), two of Canada, and one each of Germany and Indonesia. With Wednesday’s mission, India has joined the top space league that is shared by Russian and American space programmes.
The satellite launch business is pretty competitive. India is gradually emerging as a keen player in the segment, but it’s not fully ready to play in the field. Currently USA, EU and Russia account for about 80% of the global space market, pegged at $300 billion approximately.
The Indian government has set the ball rolling, with ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar pointing at the possibility of India sinking its teeth into the space market pie. However, it will take almost a decade before India actually ventures into the market, for there are things that ISRO needs to master.
ISRO launched 20 satellites on Wednesday; Russia set the highest record in June 2014, when it sent 37 satellites with a single DNEPR rocket.
Launching multiple satellites with just one rocket, like the one carried out recently is an economically viable mission and ISRO has been dabbling with it since 1999. Space scientists say India can boost its economic launch by building reusable rocket. ISRO has already initiated the Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) in May. But it has a long way to go.
However, India is on the winning side, for the current market demand is for smaller satellites, exactly like the ones it launched this week. And our national space agency is already discussing business possibilities with 10 space companies from abroad.
Luckily for India, ours is the only Asian country that has an edge in the global space market. Though China, our neighbour, can boast of stable space technology, their missions are costly. Also, it can’t use any American-built satellites or parts due to set restrictions. That’s a setback China can’t fight so easily.
In India, until now ISRO missions have been funded by the government. But tie ups with corporate and commercial space agencies can change the gambit for this state-run institution. Nothing is impossible for our Indian team. India’s mission to Mars succeeded at the first attempt where others have failed, and that too, at a lesser price than what the Hollywood sci-fi film Gravity had cost its producers.