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Spinning money out of spacecraftnews
Venkatachari Jagannathan
02 November 2001

Chennai: With the launch of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C3 last month, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has entered the select club of space agencies that have turned space science into a revenue-earning proposition.

While carrying ISROs own remote-sensing satellite and placing it into a sun-synchronous orbit, PSLV-C3 also gave a lift to two other satellites - Bird of Germany and Proba of Belgium - fetching around $1 million from each of them towards carriage fee.

Says ISROs marketing arm Antrix Corporation executive director K R Sridharamurthi: World over, several satellites weighing between 500 kg and 1.2 tonnes are being launched for remote-sensing purposes. Nearly two are being sent up annually. This is the market for the company to exploit.

This is the second time that PSLV has launched three satellites simultaneously. In May 1999, the PSLV had put IRS-P4 along with German DLR and Korean KITSAT-3 into the orbit. According to Sridharamurthi, the global satellite launch market is in the region of $6 billion. But this number will vary every year based on the number of launches.

PSLV was developed by ISRO to place 1,000 kg-class Indian remote sensing satellites into the polar sun-synchronous orbit. PSLV also has the capability to launch 3,500 kg satellites into 400-km low-earth orbit and 1,000 kg satellites into geo-synchronous transfer orbit. The first such flight will be undertaken next year when ISRO launches meteorological satellite, METSAT.

Big money, however, is in delivering heavier payloads, and India is still to develop the capability of doing so. ISRO has been using the Ariane space vehicle of France to sling its INSAT satellites into the space. The launch charge depends on the payload and distance. According to ISRO officials, at an average the carriage fee works out to $25,000 per kg/km.

The Rs 42-crore turnover Antrix Corporation is earning good revenues by selling remote sensing satellite images/data to interested countries. While this activity brings nearly one-third of the revenue, the company has three other revenue streams, namely consultancy, mission support services like tracking satellites for other countries, offering satellite launch services and leasing of transponders and other hardware like ground support systems.

According to Sridharamurthi, the company is setting up more earth stations around the
globe. Initially we will be putting up around 10 stations in Central Asia. By and large, it is the user agencies which foot the station cost.

Besides the domestic market, remote-sensing images and data have a market in the US and Europe. But the competition is tough, as Israel and Japan have also entered the fray recently besides the US and European space agencies. Our order book position is Rs 90 crore and this will see us through for the next two years, says Sridharamurthi.

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Spinning money out of spacecraft