Chennai: In a ''landmark event,'' as described by ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair, India's space agency launched an Israeli spy satellite into orbit on the back of a ''core-alone'' Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. For ISRO's marketing arm, Antrix Corporation Ltd, the launch of the satellite TecSAR, was its first ''full-fledged commercial launch.''
Giving the reasons why the event was a landmark one for ISRO and Antrix, Nair told a press conference: ''We won the contract against stiff competition from many other players. The orbit we have achieved will be the envy of any person in the launch service… It recognises the launch capability of ISRO on a par with other leading players in the world.''
TecSAR, weighing 300 kg, belongs to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Interestingly, KR Sridhara Murthi, managing director, Antrix Corporation, said Antrix had ''charged quite a lot above'' the normal international rates of $15,000 to $20,000 a kg for putting satellites in low-earth orbit.
Antrix's revenue for the financial year 2006-07 was Rs660 crore from leasing transponders, sale of remote-sensing images and launching other countries' satellites.
Nair also denied rumours that there was pressure on India from Gulf countries to turn down the launch of the Israeli satellite, which was postponed September last year. Nair said that the postponement to January 2008 because ''we had to resolve certain technical issues [with the satellite] which took some time. That put us in the monsoon season. As soon as the monsoon was over, we have launched now,'' he said.
Regarding TecSAR's configuration as a spy satellite, the ISRO chairman claimed that he was not familiar with the details of the satellite. It was a radar-imaging satellite that could take pictures of the earth during daytime, night, clouds or rain. ''I don't think there is a view that there is a class of satellites called spy satellites,'' he said.
He pointed out that India used images from Canadian satellites with a resolution of two to three metres for its agricultural operations, controlling floods, etc. ''Applications are in the minds of the people. It [satellite] is only a tool,'' he said.
In this regard he also explained that the organisation's ''hands were tied'' when queried as to why the media was kept away from the launch proceedings. ''The customer [Israel] did not want any publicity till the launch was successfully completed,'' he said.
Mission director George Koshy described the launch as being ''wonderful.''
Workload for 2008
Nair mentioned that ISRO would have a heavy work schedule in 2008 with a series of launches.
In March, the Cartosat-2A, a satellite for mapping applications, would be sent up on the back of a PSLV.
In April, PSLV-XL would launch the Chandrayaan-I, India's first mission to the moon.
A Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenously developed cryogenic upper stage would take to the sky. Israel's scientific instrument called Tel Aviv University Ultra-Violet Experiment (TAUVEX) will fly on board a GSAT from Sriharikota.Oceansat-2 would also be put in orbit. ''Our hands are full. We have a set programme for the next five years,'' Nair said.
Sridhara Murthy said ISRO would launch three customers payloads in 2008, including a cluster of three nano satellites from the Netherlands, which will meet educational objectives as well as test miniaturisation and a new software; another nano satellite weighing 14 kg from the University of Toronto, Canada, for surveying radio frequency; and a 7-kg nano satellite, called Rubin 8, from Germany for testing communication with ships.