- The Small Satellite Launch Vehicle is planned to be a 120-ton rocket
- SSLV will be able to place about 500 kg of satellites in low earth orbits
- The first launch of the SSLV is expected to loft a small Indian satellite
It's a deal that is almost unheard of in the space industry. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been able to sell a dedicated commercial launch of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) to an American company months before the rocket is any shape to lift off. The project promises to be money-spinner for the Indian space agency since experts say the global small satellite business is growing exponentially.
Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc has bought the entire second flight of the SSLV - dubbed the "Baby PSLV" after ISRO's trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) - and it hopes to put four satellites in space with a launch early next year. It is unprecedented that a rocket with no known successful launch heritage to its credit is lapped by a commercial outfit while it is little more than a drawing.
The SSLV is a new launch vehicle conceived by the ISRO to meet the very large global need to launch small satellites into orbit. This new rocket will be able to place about 500 kg of satellites into low earth orbits. Dr K Sivan, chairman of ISRO told NDTV, "This new kid will offer a low-cost solution and it will have a very quick turnaround time and it can be literally launched on demand."
The SSLV is planned to be a 120-ton rocket made up of three stages all powered by solid boosters and the top stage housing a liquid-fuelled velocity trimming module. Dr Sivan said the SSLV can be stacked in one day and the entire launch campaign can be completed in three days. In contrast, the bigger rockets take up to two months to be assembled and launched.
The first launch of the SSLV is still to take place and is scheduled for the end of this year. Globally, no satellite-maker takes a risk to put its satellites on untested and unproven vehicles. Most new rockets have to prove their worthiness and reliability at least three times consecutively before the space market accepts these as trustworthy launch vehicles.
In March this year, India's Department of Space floated a new commercial arm called the Newspace India Limited (NSIL) and in less than six months, this new outfit managed a robust sales track including the SSLV. DR Suma, Chairman and Managing Director of NSIL said, "This sale of a commercial launch even before the vehicle has been born or any metal cutting done is unique and suggests the faith the global community has in India's rocket technology."
NSIL has also sold two dedicated launches of the larger PSLV. "These are again commercial launches for overseas customers," Ms Suma said. In all, the new company has already brought in 10 launch agreements - bringing in significant earnings for ISRO.
"In less than six months, NSIL has paid back many times over the Rs 10 crore paid-up capital that the central government put in this new public sector undertaking," D Radhakrishnan, Executive Director of NSIL, said.
The first launch of the SSLV is expected to loft a small Indian satellite. ISRO has deployed components which have a good heritage and hence the global community is accepting the vehicle so easily, said Ms Suma.
"SSLV is perfectly suited for launching multiple microsatellites at a time and supports multiple orbital drop-offs. We're excited to add SSLV to our launch portfolio and manage many launches together," Curt Blake, CEO and President of Spaceflight, said.