In­dia, China in race to cut rocket launch cost

Both coun­tries’ agen­cies say they can pro­vide ac­cess to space at low price

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Nation - Su­tirtho Pa­tra­nobis let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com ▪

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

Rocket launch prices usu­ally aren’t made pub­lic and a Chi­nese of­fi­cial’s rare com­ments on plans to re­duce costs were made at an aero­space fo­rum in Bei­jing this month.

Re­act­ing to China’s plans to dras­ti­cally re­duce launch costs, an ISRO of­fi­cial said 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 space launch costs to “one-tenth” 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 cost­ef­fec­tive model, be able to com­pete?

“We are quite com­pet­i­tive,” ISRO spokesper­son De­viprasad Karnik said when HT reached out for a com­ment on 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 one­tenth of the pre­vail­ing one. In­dia is also work­ing to­wards that,” Karnik said.

The cost of launch­ing var­i­ous rock­ets used by 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.

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 full-fledged de­vel­op­ment of such sys­tems,” he said.

He 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 a sharply com­pet­i­tive model put in place by ISRO.

Karnik said the Chi­nese ef­fort to re­duce costs in the sec­tor 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 one­tenth 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.

“In­dia’s suc­cess­ful launch of a record-break­ing 104 satel­lites into or­bit could serve as a wake-up call for China’s com­mer­cial space in­dus­try and there are a num­ber of lessons for the coun­try to learn,” the na­tion­al­is­tic Global Times tabloid wrote af­ter ISRO broke the Rus­sian record for launch­ing the high­est num­ber of satel­lites at one go in Fe­bru­ary.

PTI FILE

▪ Re­act­ing to China’s plans to re­duce launch costs, an Isro of­fi­cial said they too were work­ing to bring down space launch costs to ‘one­tenth’ of what they are now.

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