The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to step up the involvement of the Indian industry towards productionisation of integrated systems and sub-systems for its future launches.
The move is part of the efforts by the space agency to scale up capabilities in the growing commercial market for space-based surveillance and communication through the assembly and testing of integrated packages and modules by shortlisted vendors as per ISRO’s design, officials involved in the exercise told The Indian Express. This comes in the wake of ISRO’s success in propelling a record 104 satellites into space through a single launch earlier this month.
Hitherto, participation of firms such as Godrej Aerospace, L&T and Avasara Technologies has been limited to the supply of components and systems for launches. Godrej, for instance, has been involved in the manufacture of thrusters for satellites and antenna systems, Avasara has supplied heat pipes to ISRO, while L&T’s Aerospace Business Group made motor casings and honeycomb deck heat shield panels in the latest PSLV-C37 launch.
This level of industry engagement is to be ramped up by way of transfer of technology and hand-holding to shortlisted companies to cover the manufacture of integral packages such as space-related hardware, including rocket engine and stages, propellant tanks, spacecraft structures, solar panels, thermal control systems and electronic packages required for satellites and launch vehicles. Alongside this, ISRO has also initiated deliberations with the industry to move towards a consortium approach for the development of two Navic satellites, which are being built to buttress India’s navigation constellation. The consortiums would take up packages such as electrical or software required to build a satellite, as against individual companies supplying individual components.
Executives from two private sector firms confirmed to The Indian Express that they had been sounded out on the plans by ISRO to move towards the productionisation of integrated systems and subsystems.
ISRO and Antrix Corp, its commercial arm, did not respond to official queries sent by this newspaper.
Prior to Wednesday’s launch of 101 foreign satellites and three domestic ones in a single launch by its workhorse launch vehicle PSLV, India had put 39 operational satellites in orbit comprising 17 Earth observation (including meteorological), 13 communication, 7 navigational and 2 Space Science satellites, which are being utilised to meet the demands in the area of natural resources management, infrastructure planning, disaster management support, enabling weather forecasting, satellite communication and navigation.
According to government officials involved in the exercise, a significant increase in the capacity is needed to ensure continuity of services and to meet various emerging demands in these areas, apart from the potential in the growing commercial market.
With Wednesday’s successful launch, the total number of customer satellites from abroad launched by the PSLV has reached 180, reaffirming the opportunity ISRO and Antrix, has in consolidating its reputation as a low-cost, high-success launcher of small satellites that weigh up to 500 kg.
According to a projection by Space Works Enterprise Inc, a research firm, roughly 5,000 “micro” (10 to 100 kg) and “nano” satellites (1 to 10 kg) need to be put into orbit in 2020. As compared to this, there were just 92 of these launched in 2013. Over 60 per cent of these satellites are expected to on behalf of commercial entities, including communication companies, firms involved in remote-sensing and weather tracking, providing off-grid internet in remote areas.
The move by ISRO to potentially broad-base its vendor options comes at a time when India is also trying to master the re-usable technology for space shuttles, where competitors include aerospace manufacturers floated by global billionaires and supported by NASA, such as the Elon Musk-backed SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. Both these firms have partially tested re-usable space shuttles, with SpaceX managing to land its Falcon-9 rocket onto a sea-based platform while Blue Origin managed to land its New Shepard rocket on land in Texas last year.
In May 2016, ISRO too had launched a 7-metre-sized re-useable prototype, the RLV, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, which flew about 70 km into the atmosphere before it splashed down into the Bay of Bengal after an over 10 minute span from liftoff to splashdown.