Opinion: Today is merely the beginning of an ambitious Indian space programme

Written By: Vidya Sagar Reddy
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Jan 12, 2018, 11:01 AM(IST)

The PSLV will be carrying 28 satellites belonging to six countries. Photograph:( Others )

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully launched the proven Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) after a gap of four months. The successful launch puts behind the recent failure of the PSLV. It imparts momentum to an ambitious launch schedule that hopes to meet pressing domestic demand as well as capture a better share of the global space industry.


In its recent flight in August, the PSLV had failed to put into orbit the replacement satellite for the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS-1A). ISRO has now successfully flight validated the rectified heat shield that had failed to separate last time. With this launch, the PSLV scores a success rate of 40 launches against 42 attempts. 


The PSLV also has continued its streak of placing multiple satellites into multiple orbits by utilising the restartable fourth stage engine. This is a key requirement for the burgeoning global small satellite industry. By launching hundreds of small satellites, The NewSpace industry, with innovative business models, is offering round the clock satellite images, satellite internet, ship tracking capability etc.


By innovating on the existing, proven launch vehicle and infrastructure, ISRO intends to capture a major share of this market while competing with a string of new small satellite launch vehicles emerging across the world.


As India’s Prime Minister had noted, the PSLV continues to be an attractive option for foreign satellite manufacturers and owners unfazed with the recent failure. The US had placed a restriction on its companies from contracting the PSLV. However, the companies can obtain a waiver and despite the lengthy process, the PSLV continues to be a major launch vehicle option. 


This launch is also the first of an ambitious launch schedule ISRO is aiming at for this year. It already has lined up two more PSLV launches from the first launch pad and two GSLV Mk II launches from the second launch pad. The second developmental flight of India’s heaviest rocket GSLV Mk III will also be taking place in the coming months. 


India has placed its 100th satellite in orbit but it still lacks, at least, 50 percent of the satellite capacity required for various tasks. In addition to increasing the capacity of the first launch pad, ISRO is erecting the second launch vehicle assembly centre to do 15 launches per year. Along with the development of a smaller satellite launch vehicle and the outsourcing of satellite Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT), ISRO intends to improve its satellite manufacturing and launch capacity to meet these demands.


This launch also coincides with the leadership change ISRO is witnessing. K. Sivan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) which designs and manufactures the country’s launch vehicles has been appointed the next Secretary of the Department of Space as well as the Chairman of the Space Commission. Given the fact that the ISRO Chairman usually simultaneously holds these two posts, he is expected to become the next Chairman. He has worked on both the PSLV and the GSLV launch vehicle programmes and can be expected to continue the momentum towards improving India’s launch capacity. 


Today’s successful launch of the PSLV is merely the beginning of an ambitious Indian space programme that is evolving to meet the domestic development as well as the international commercial launch imperatives. 


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).


Vidya Sagar Reddy

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a Junior Fellow in the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
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