The Indian Space Research Organisation's (Isro's) historic feat of hurling 104 satellites in one go, a record by any space agency, is set to open up a global opportunity and make India a one-stop shop for building and hurling micro satellites.
Over the next five years, over 3,000 such satellites with sizes varying from a small shoebox to a 24-inch television set and weighing one kg to 50 kg are expected to be built and launched by various players, according to SpaceWorks Inc, a US space industry researcher.
The biggest such move will be by OneWeb, the Softbank-funded satellite venture which has India’s Bharti as a partner. It will launch 648 small satellites to provide high-speed internet to remotest corners of the world.
Planet Labs, which acquired the satellite infrastructure of Google, on Wednesday used for a second time the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket to hurl 88 micro satellites or Doves into space.
Isro sees an immense opportunity for two reasons – first, there is a global shortage of launchers for small satellite missions; and second, there is a sudden rush of private industry in the US and Europe to send hundreds of satellites to space for various needs. These needs include weather tracking, navigation on the sea where there is little connectivity so far, and providing high-speed internet to remotest parts of the world.
“Whenever there is a large production of satellites, there will also be requirement for sub systems. There are many industries that can produce for global companies,” A S Kiran Kumar, chairman of (Isro), had said in an interview last year.
So far, Isro's PSLV rocket has launched 225 satellites, of which 179 are for foreign customers.
"Our teams had come with very good solutions for (the large order), including finding real estate to accommodate all the satellites in the payload compartment," says B Jayakumar, project director for PSLV at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC)
Rockets from players like SpaceX, BlueOrigin, Rocket Lab and Firefly Systems, are yet to compete on a large scale. Also, Isro, with private players in India taking up satellite building, wants to position the country as a hub where global firms can share design, build it in India and launch it on an Indian rocket.
It has already contracted a consortium of small firms led by Alpha Design, a Bengaluru aerospace firm, to build two of its Navic navigation satellite, transferring the technology knowhow to build and assemble satellites according to design. It also has shared the knowhow for ground equipment that captures satellite data, and processe them for specific local applications.
“We want to enable the Indian space ecosystem. The demand for electronics in space industry is growing. There are opportunities for niche companies in space,” says Kumar. “Some of the technology is already with the private companies”.