In­dia, China in fierce race to cut satel­lite launch cost

CON­TEST Coun­tries’ agen­cies say they can pro­vide ac­cess to space at low price

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - NATION - Su­tirtho Pa­tra­nobis let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

BEI­JING: The In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Isro) is fully pre­pared to com­pete in the global race to cut the cost of launch­ing satel­lites, the agency said on Tues­day af­ter China an­nounced plans to bring down prices to $5,000 a kilo­gram.

Satel­lite launch prices usu­ally aren’t made pub­lic and a Chi­nese of­fi­cial made the rare com­ments on plans to re­duce costs at an aero­space fo­rum in Bei­jing this month. Re­act­ing to China’s plans, an Isro of­fi­cial said that not only is the In­dian agency “com­pet­i­tive” but it is work­ing to re­duce the cost of ac­cess to space through new tech­nol­ogy. The ef­fort is to bring down launch costs to “one­tenth” of what they are now, the of­fi­cial said.

Yang Bao­hua from the China Aero­space Sci­ence and Tech­no­log­i­cal Cor­po­ra­tion (CASC), a state-owned en­tity that de­vel­ops and man­u­fac­tures space­craft and launch ve­hi­cles, said the com­pany is “ready to pro­vide cheaper and faster low-earth or­bit rocket launches”.

The Peo­ple’s Daily, the Com­mu­nist Party‘s mouth­piece, quoted Yang as say­ing: “The price could be as low as $5,000 per kilo­gram and the pre-launch prepa­ra­tion will only need a week.”

Will Isro, known for its cost-ef­fec­tive model, be able to com­pete? “We are quite com­pet­i­tive,” Isro spokesper­son De­viprasad Karnik said, re­spond­ing to China’s plans. “As of now, In­dia is quite com­pet­i­tive with re­gard to the pre­vail­ing global launch cost. So far, In­dia has launched 209 satel­lites of nano, mi­cro, mini, and stan­dard size for 28 coun­tries. There is a global move to re­duce the cost of ac­cess to space to the tune of one-tenth of the pre­vail­ing one. In­dia is also work­ing to­wards that,” he said.

The cost of launch­ing satel­lites us­ing rock­ets of the United Launch Al­liance — a joint ven­ture of Lock­heed Martin and Boe­ing that pro­vides ser­vices to the US gov­ern­ment — ranges be­tween $14,000 a kilo­gram to $20,000 a kilo­gram. How­ever, pri­vate launch ser­vice provider SpaceX plans to bring down costs to about $2,500 a kilo­gram with its par­tially re­us­able rock­ets.

Isro’s low prices and its high suc­cess rate have at­tracted for­eign clients. While a satel­lite launch on Ari­anes­pace’s rocket costs about $100 mil­lion af­ter sub­si­dies, SpaceX will charge $60 mil­lion. In con­trast, Isro charged an av­er­age $3 mil­lion per satel­lite be­tween 2013 and 2015.

An­trix Corp Ltd, Isro’s fledg­ling com­mer­cial arm, is widely seen as a se­ri­ous con­tender in the $335.5 bil­lion global space in­dus­try, even though the launch mar­ket only brings in about 20% of the agency’s rev­enues. But Isro is bet­ter placed to cap­i­talise on the new mar­ket for launch­ing small satel­lites, in­clud­ing those which will be used for space-based, high­speed in­ter­net con­nec­tions.

Karnik out­lined some of the steps be­ing taken by Isro to bring down costs. ”In­dia is de­vel­op­ing re­us­able launch ve­hi­cles. We have suc­cess­fully tested a mis­sion — RLV-TD and Scran­jet -TD — in that di­rec­tion, with TD stand­ing for tech­nol­ogy demon­stra­tor. Ef­forts are on for the fullfledged de­vel­op­ment of such sys­tems,” he said.

Karnik de­clined to share de­tails of how much In­dia charges but the fact that In­dia has done launches for 28 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ger­many, Canada, The Netherlands and Is­rael, points to­ward the sharply com­pet­i­tive model put in place by Isro.

Karnik said the Chi­nese ef­fort to re­duce costs was part of a global trend. “As I have al­ready men­tioned, the global move is to re­duce the cost of ac­cess to space to the tune of one-tenth of the pre­vail­ing (prices),” he said.

With six manned space mis­sions, China’s space pro­gramme is more ad­vanced. But that hasn’t stopped Bei­jing from closely track­ing the com­mer­cial as­pect of In­dia’s space pro­gramme and at­tempt­ing to make its own cheaper.

PTI FILE

An Isro of­fi­cial said they were also work­ing to bring down space launch costs to ‘one­tenth’ of what they are now.

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