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Explained: Pixxel India’s delayed flight to new space frontier

The launch vehicle successfully injected Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite and 18 co-passenger sattelites into their intended orbits in a predetermined sequence.

Written by Amitabh Sinha
Pune | Updated: March 1, 2021 1:50:48 pm
Explained: Pixxel India’s delayed flight to new space frontierThe first of these satellites, called Anand, was supposed to be on the PSLV-C51 rocket that lifted off from the Sriharikota launching range on Sunday morning. (Twitter/@ISRO)

When the PSLV-C51 mission was announced, the most excitement was about a satellite that eventually could not be part of Sunday’s launch. The launch vehicle successfully injected Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite and 18 co-passenger sattelites into their intended orbits in a predetermined sequence.

The star that did not show up at the launch party was a satellite from Pixxel India, one of several new startups that are billed to do to India’s space sector what SpaceX or Planet Labs have done in the United States.

Bengaluru-based Pixxel India has planned a vast constellation of earth-imaging satellites that would continuously monitor every part of the globe and beam high-resolution imagery and other data that can be used for a variety of applications related to climate change, agriculture, and urban planning.

The first of these satellites, called Anand, was supposed to be on the PSLV-C51 rocket that lifted off from the Sriharikota launching range on Sunday morning.

“Certain software issues” had arisen during testing, the company has said. “Given the time and effort that has gone into making the satellite, it did not make sense to rush a satellite to launch in which we do not have complete confidence at this time,” it said.

ISRO chairman K Sivan had said that the launch of PSLV-C51 would be “special” because of Pixxel India’s satellite, which would mark the beginning of a new age of private companies becoming partners in India’s space sector. “The government…has initiated reforms, and within eight months, the first satellite Anand from a start-up called Pixxel India is going to be launched,” Sivan had said after ISRO’s last launch in December.

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“Definitely, PSLV-C51 is going to be a first of its kind in the country. It is going to initiate a new era of space reforms in India and I am sure that these private people would take this activity further and provide services for the entire country,” he had said.

The main payload in Sunday’s mission, the Amazonia-1 earth observation satellite, is the first commercial venture for ISRO’s two-year-old marketing arm, NewSpace India Limited. ISRO’s earlier marketing company, Antrix, has been bogged down by long litigation in the controversial Devas deal.

The sun-synchronous Amazonia-1 is the first satellite to be fully designed, integrated, tested, and operated by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. It can generate images of any part of the world every five days, but will be used mainly to provide remote sensing data in order to monitor deforestation in the Amazon.

Among the 18 other satellites on board the launch vehicle were 12 SpaceBEEs from the US, and a group of three satellites called UNITYsat developed jointly by students of Jeppiaar Institute of Technology, Sriperumbudur, GH Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur, and Sri Shakhti Institute of Engineering and Technology, Coimbatore. Also on board was a nano satellite developed by Space Kidz India, which will study space weather and demonstrate long-range communication technologies.

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