NEW DELHI, Jan 3: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will use the Falcon-9 heavy lift rocket launcher of SpaceX to launch its next generation heavy communication satellite GSAT-20. The SpaceX launcher is expected to lift off from Florida on a dedicated Indian mission.
This will be the first time the ISRO and the department of space will use Falcon-9 to launch its satellite and indicate a significant shift since till now India relied heavily on the France led Arianespace consortium to launch the heavy satellites. It also exposes ISRO’s weakness that it still lacked a rocket having the capacity to lift big communication satellites. India’s own rockets lack the capacity for launching very heavy satellites to the geostationary orbit beyond 4 ton class. ISRO Chairman S Somanath said India had to go to SpaceX since ‘no other rocket was available in time.’
The commercial arm or ISRO, New Space India Limited (NSIL) has signed a contract with SpaceX for a possible lift-off in the second quarter of this year. According to NSIL, GSAT-20 offers Ka-Ka band high through put (HTS) capacity with 32 beams having Pan-India coverage including Andaman & Nicobar, Jammu & Kashmir and Lakshadweep islands.
NSIL is realizing GSAT-20 satellite through ISRO. The satellite weighs 4700 kg, offers HTS capacity of nearly 48Gpbs. The satellite has been specifically designed to meet the demanding service needs of remote/ unconnected regions. Dr Radhakrishnan Durairaj, CMD, NSIL says this is the second demand driven communication satellite mission being undertaken by NSIL after the GSAT-24 mission whose full capacity was leased out to Tata Play. Durairaj says this new satellite deal only confirms that the reform process undertaken by the government is yielding results. NSIL has not revealed who has bought the capacity of the satellite.
While France and Arianespace was indeed a trusted all weather partner all along and India launched 23 of its heavy duty communications satellites on this rocket owned by the European Space Agency. Durairaj says but for a 21st century new age public sector undertaking looking at bottom lines `if commercials and readiness make sense we go for it’. It must also be acknowledged that Arianespace retired its most trusted rocket Ariane-5 and the replacement Ariane-6 has been much delayed.
The GSAT-20 satellite will now be renamed GSAT-N2 and it will essentially provide broadband internet access to remote areas. This will obviously be in competition with OneWeb and Starlink who may get licenses soon since the new Telecom law paves way for them to launch their services. Other players actively wooing the space based internet service provider market is Reliance Jiospace.
India’s heaviest rocket dubbed the Bahuballi or the Launch Vehicle Mark 3 can lift only 4000 kilogram satellites to the geo-stationary orbit. Mr Somanath has been stressing the need to urgently build a heavier rocket called the Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV) which can lift up to 10,000 kilograms to the same orbit, it is already being designed at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and will take few more years to become a reality. Somanath says `India’s launch capability has to be enhanced to meet future needs, while being cost competitive.’