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Nilgiri

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NEW DELHI: Late last month, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched its heaviest rocket, Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM-3), putting in orbit 36 satellites of a UK-based satellite communications company. This was also the first commercial operation of LVM-3. India’s space economy is very, very low (about 2 per cent of the global space economy), says ISRO chairman S. Somnath. Speaking to StratNews Global Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale, he said there’s a need to create an ecosystem where manufacturing (satellites, launch vehicles) improves and this can happen only when the private sector, especially big industries and start-ups, get involved. Tune in for more.

 

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NEW DELHI: Late last month, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched its heaviest rocket, Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM-3), putting in orbit 36 satellites of a UK-based satellite communications company. This was also the first commercial operation of LVM-3. India’s space economy is very, very low (about 2 per cent of the global space economy), says ISRO chairman S. Somnath. Speaking to StratNews Global Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale, he said there’s a need to create an ecosystem where manufacturing (satellites, launch vehicles) improves and this can happen only when the private sector, especially big industries and start-ups, get involved. Tune in for more.

I don't believe there's money to made in space for launch providers. SpaceX has absolutely turned the table on that. You(or anyone) cannot compete with partially-reusable Falcon 9 on cost. One of the boosters has been reused 14 times already. And they're reusing fairings too. The only cost of the launch is the second-stage and some operational cost. On top of that, they have ride sharing service. They launch small satellites to SSO for as little as $275k.


On top of that, if they manage to put Starship in service and if it was really fully and rapidly reusable then it's game over for everyone in the industry. Even small launch vehicles for small satellites couldn't compete with that rocket whose only expense is the propellant. From that point on the only objective of other countries' efforts for launching rockets could be to preservation of independent space-access capability. Or they could venture the path of developing fully-reusable rockets but that's a very long and painful road to walk. I'm not sure how many countries have the resources and experience to tackle that problem considering they haven't recovered even one booster whereas SpaceX has recovered over 150 boosters so far. They have a good two decades lead in the industry.
 

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I don't believe there's money to made in space for launch providers. SpaceX has absolutely turned the table on that. You(or anyone) cannot compete with partially-reusable Falcon 9 on cost. One of the boosters has been reused 14 times already. And they're reusing fairings too. The only cost of the launch is the second-stage and some operational cost. On top of that, they have ride sharing service. They launch small satellites to SSO for as little as $275k.


On top of that, if they manage to put Starship in service and if it was really fully and rapidly reusable then it's game over for everyone in the industry. Even small launch vehicles for small satellites couldn't compete with that rocket whose only expense is the propellant. From that point on the only objective of other countries' efforts for launching rockets could be to preservation of independent space-access capability. Or they could venture the path of developing fully-reusable rockets but that's a very long and painful road to walk. I'm not sure how many countries have the resources and experience to tackle that problem considering they haven't recovered even one booster whereas SpaceX has recovered over 150 boosters so far. They have a good two decades lead in the industry.

We are talking about the space economy as a whole here, estimated at around 400 - 500 billion USD currently in the world and projected to reach around 1 trillion USD by 2040 (and maybe sooner).

Space launch revenue represents maybe around 15 billion USD revenue in comparison ~3% of the space economy.

So while it is important for India to keep and have a significant foot in the door there (especially given the strategic benefit) till more breakouts can be achieved down road with more technological innovation and maturity of scale then, it specifically is not the larger picture by far for the ecosystem development being talked about in the interview.

The larger Indian space economy will be expanded and guided price-signalling, investment and capacity wise largely by India's 3.5 trillion market capitalisation, ~ 65 unicorns and other very positive forces, using what ISRO has kept relatively closer to chest till now given slower pace of earlier era of Indian private sector.
 

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CHENNAI: While the country is celebrating the successful launch of Vikram-S rocket, India’s first private rocket, another spacetech company from Chennai, Agnikul Cosmos, incubated by IIT-Madras, is quietly building India’s first private launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota for its maiden rocket launch tentatively scheduled for next month.




“The launch pad work commenced six months ago and is nearing completion. It’s a miniature launch facility customised to suit our requirements. Unlike Skyroot, we can’t use ISRO’s sounding rocket complex or use PSLV/GSLV launch pads due to their sheer gigantic size for our Agnibaan rocket which will use our patented semi-cryogenic engine. We needed a modular launch pad with an umbilical tower to support the vertical launch that we are planning,” Srinath Ravichandran, CEO and co-founder, Agnikul Cosmos, told TNIE.

ISRO chairman S Somanath said the space agency welcomes private players to build infrastructure, including launch pads, at Sriharikota. “It all depends on the demand. If there is a need for more launch pads, private players are free to synergise. The space reforms introduced in 2020 were not only meant for manufacturing rockets, it can also be for ramping up infrastructure.” On why it took considerable time for the launch of Agnibaan, Srinath said, “Ours is a completely different technology.”

‘Full scale flight after successful Agnibaan launch in December’

“We will be flying a patented semi-cryogenic engine. This will be happening for the first time in the country. Unlike Skyroot’s mission, Agnibaan launch will be a near orbital flight. Though our maiden flight will also be a sub-orbital mission, the vehicle has higher capability. We just wanted to test our actual orbital flight at a smaller scale. Once the December launch is successful, we will be going for a full-scale orbital flight very shortly because almost all the systems that we will be using in an orbital flight will be tested starting from engine tanks, avionics, and flight software etc,” Srinath said.

Another difference between Vikram-S and Agnibaan is that the latter will be a controlled flight. Agnibaan will also be using a Flight Termination System supplied by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). This would be the first time a system used by ISRO for its vehicles will be used for supporting a private launch vehicle built in India.

Srinath said that the credit for private space entities making rapid strides in the sector goes to the Union government, ISRO and IN-SPACe as they have opened up their facilities and expertise for development of private space launch vehicles.
 

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