Moon mission won’t lead to big satellite launch orders

By Venkatachari Jagannathan,IANS,

Chennai : The launch of India’s lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan Oct 22 will not immediately result in big satellite launch orders for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), but will improve its expertise in the area where India specialises – Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV).

Support TwoCircles

PSLVs carry lightweight research satellites, not the heavy communication or weather satellites that orbit the earth above the equator. In the area of these rockets, called Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLV), India has a long way to go before it can attract commercial luggage.

“World over the lunar or other planetary missions are in exploratory research stage. Estimating the commercial fallout of India’s moon mission is too early to discuss. People have to go a long way to exploit the potential,” K.R. Sridhara Murthi, executive director, Antrix Corporation Limited told IANS.

The Rs.9.4 billion turnover Antrix (profit Rs.1.6 billion) is the commercial arm of ISRO.

“Even the pictures taken by the Chandrayaan spacecraft will not be of much commercial value. But they will have scientific value. The one advantage that India has is that we are in the game in an early stage,” Murthi said.

Adding that the main driver is future potential and strategic capability, he said: “The positive spinoff is the development of technological capability in making high energy instruments, miniaturised components, robotics and others that will be in useful in the long run.”

While PSLV is used for placing lighter satellites in polar orbit and at times in geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) if the payload is around 1,100 kg, GSLV is for putting heavier satellites of around two tonnes in GTO.

Only research institutes and universities would want to send small satellites on PSLVs and they are widely dispersed across the globe, making it difficult to make a concerted marketing pitch, remarked Murthi.

India will be considered seriously in the global satellite launch arena only when its GSLV Mark III comes into play with a capacity to carry over three tonnes, he added.

ISRO’s current strategy relating to its rockets is to maximise the carrying capacity utilisation by pitching for light weight luggage as co-passenger for its own satellite – the main luggage.

“India has not invested in capacity creation to wait for payload. Our investment is for our use and at the same time cash on the available opportunity,” Murthi said.

The bulk of the commercial launches around the world are for communication satellites that weigh over three tonnes, a segment dominated by Europe, the US, Russia and China.

The major launch vehicles in the world are Delta, Pegasus, Shuttle, Atlas, Ariane, Soyuz, Proton, Titan and the new Long March that belongs to China.

The rocket freight rate is calculated on cost per kilogramme per kilometre carried basis.

ISRO has used PSLV to launch 16 third party satellites till now.

The heaviest is the 500 kg Italian satellite Agile in 2004 followed by the Israeli satellite TecSAR that weighed 300 kg.

Presently ISRO has received three or four payload commitments from third parties for PSLV, said Murthi.

According to him the overall launch industry is stagnating in the last couple of years.

“There is no big growth. No big satellite systems are coming into the market.”