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Isro arm Antrix bags deals to launch 68 foreign satellites

31 August 2016

India secured deals to launch 68 overseas satellites, including a dozen from the US, a top official said on Tuesday.

''We got fresh orders to launch 68 satellites from various countries, including 12 from PlanetiQ, a US-based weather forecasting satellite firm,'' said Rakesh Sasibhushan, chairman and managing director of Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Through Antrix, the state-run Isro has launched 74 foreign satellites, including many from advanced countries like Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel and the US over the 15 years, using its most reliable workhorse - the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

''We also got an order to launch a heavier earth observation satellite from an overseas customer,'' said Sasibhushan without naming the customer.

The new orders include launching smaller and nano-satellites with different payloads (instruments) for experiments, data generation, image-capturing and transmitting signals for communications, broadcasting, remote-sensing, earth observation and weather conditions.

PSLV-C34 set a record in July by launching 20 satellites, with a combined weight of 1,288 kg including ISRO's 728 kg Cartosat-2 from its rocketport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80 km north-east of Chennai.

''We plan to carry more satellites in a single launch at a time for optimal utilisation of the rocket space and other resources for achieving economies of scale,'' hinted Sasibhushan.

''We estimate that about 2,500 satellites will be built in the next decade to meet the needs of countries and private customers for navigation, maritime, surveillance and other space-based applications,'' Sasibhushan told reporters ahead of the fifth biennial Space Expo from Thursday in Bengaluru.

OneWeb, a global consortium of British multinational Virgin Group, Indian telecom major Bharti Enterprises and US-based chip maker Qualcomm, is planning to put a record 648 smaller satellites as a constellation to beam high-speed internet to local terminals.

Isro also is bracing up for commercial launch of two-tonne and above satellites using its heavier rocket -- Geosynchrnous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to place them in geo-stationary orbits, about 36,000 km from the earth.

The operational GSLV Mk-II rocket with an indigenous cryogenic upper stage is set for launch in September with a weather satellite onboard.

''We are looking for commercial operations of GSLV for which the indigenous cryogenic engines are getting ready to launch more satellites to the geo-orbits,'' noted Sasibhushan.

With more nations and private customers keen on having their own satellites for various applications, India is pitching itseld in the multi-billion dollar launch market due to shortage of rockets and launchers worldwide and owing its cost advantage.

Isro, however, will face competition from global players such as BlueOrigin, Firefly Systems, Rocket Lab and SpaceX, which are bracing up to offer satellite launch services from 2017.

(See: Antrix sees big future for Indian firms in small satellites)

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