In a historic move, India’s Department of Space and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has opted for SpaceX’s Falcon-9 heavy lift launcher to deploy its advanced communications satellite, GSAT-20. This marks the first instance of ISRO utilizing SpaceX’s Falcon-9 for a dedicated Indian mission, with liftoff anticipated from Florida.
The decision to collaborate with SpaceX underscores a notable shift for ISRO, highlighting the absence of a domestic rocket with the capacity to launch substantial communication satellites. ISRO Chairman S Somanath acknowledged that India turned to SpaceX because “no other rocket was available in time.”
New Space India Limited (NSIL), ISRO’s commercial arm, has inked a contract with SpaceX for a potential launch in the second quarter of the year. This departure from previous reliance on the France-led Arianespace consortium for heavy satellite launches signifies a significant change in strategy.
ISRO’s indigenous rockets currently lack the capability to launch very heavy satellites into geostationary orbits exceeding the 4-ton class. NSIL’s agreement with SpaceX showcases the evolving dynamics of global collaborations in space exploration and commercial satellite launches.
GSAT-20, now renamed GSAT-N2, is a cutting-edge communications satellite designed to provide Ka-Ka band high-throughput capacity with 32 beams covering Pan-India areas, including remote regions such as Andaman & Nicobar, Jammu & Kashmir, and Lakshadweep islands. Weighing 4700 kg, the satellite boasts a high-throughput capacity of nearly 48 Gbps, catering to the demands of underserved and unconnected regions.
Dr. Radhakrishnan Durairaj, CMD of NSIL, emphasized that this satellite deal signifies the success of government-initiated reforms. While Arianespace had been a reliable partner for India, the decision to choose SpaceX demonstrates a contemporary approach to collaborations, focusing on commercial viability and efficiency.
The GSAT-20 satellite’s primary objective is to offer broadband internet access to remote areas, entering into competition with other global players like OneWeb and Starlink. The recent Telecom law amendments facilitate licensing for these services, opening the door for space-based internet service providers such as Reliance Jiospace.
India’s current heavy-duty rocket, the Launch Vehicle Mark 3, can lift only 4000-kilogram satellites to geostationary orbits. S Somanath stressed the urgency of developing a heavier rocket, the Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV), capable of lifting up to 10,000 kilograms to the same orbit. The NGLV is under design at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center and is expected to enhance India’s launch capabilities to meet future demands while maintaining cost competitiveness.
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