India’s ambitious satellite mission hits an obstacle when the rocket loses its way in space

An Indian rocket that went awry on its maiden voyage has cast a cloud over the country’s plans to put smaller satellites into orbit and gain a foothold in the multibillion-euro global launch market.

The 34-meter Small Satellite Launch Vehicle or SSLV was the newest and cheapest entrant in India’s stable of three operational rockets and designed to carry satellites weighing between just five kilograms and 500 kilograms.

S. Somanath, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), said the low-cost rocket put two satellites, including one built by 75 schoolgirls, into an elliptical rather than circular orbit at an altitude of 356 kilometers.

“But for that problem, we could not see any other anomaly,” Somanath said after the long-awaited flight mission of the €3.6 million rocket was deemed a failure.

“The satellites have already come down from that orbit and they are no longer usable,” he said after the Aug. 7 flight, adding that he was preparing for another attempt.

“We hope that with the second development flight, we will be completely successful in proving that the vehicle can put satellites into the intended orbits for commercial use for India and the world,” he added.

Increasing demand

G. Madhavan Nair, a former ISRO chief, urged the 53-year-old space agency to rush the project, billed as India’s only answer to the booming miniature satellite launch market.

“Demand is going to increase for small satellites from universities, institutions and the student community, and (so) we need to get into the market quickly,” Nair told TV.

“At the same time, it is important that the production of this missile system is taken up by industry and then only we can meet the requirements globally,” he added.

The accident could dampen India’s plans to gallop into the small satellite market, which is set to grow fourfold to 12 billion euros by 2030. Indian Express the newspaper added.

Bespoke SSLVs can be assembled in 72 hours and at a tenth of the price of those in use, which take around 80 days to build.

Smaller rockets could boost ISRO’s performance to 50 to 60 low-altitude launches a year, experts say.

SSLV’s flight had been postponed several times over the past three years and further delays could hurt business for ISRO, which recorded only half a dozen satellite launches from its larger rockets in that period, the paper said.

In contrast, SpaceX rockets from the American businessman Elon Musk put 143 small satellites into orbit last year.

Three local firms are said to have plans to assemble smaller satellites that account for 90 percent of all current launches.

The rocket’s failure was also the second setback for India’s Earth observation satellites named EOS. Last year, such a satellite, which ran on a regular rocket, was scrapped due to disorder in the launch.

Space Odyssey

In 2014, India sent a rocket to Mars and succeeded in the first attempt while others failed. The expedition to the Red Planet cost 71 million euros, 11 percent of NASA’s Maven orbit.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Mars odyssey cost less than the Hollywood science fiction film Gravity.

Five years later, it attempted to join an elite club of spacefaring nations that flew to the moon. But the Indian spacecraft lost contact while descending and the Lander crashed on the lunar surface.

ISRO is now gearing up for its most challenging mission to put astronauts on the moon next year after two dummy runs with a total expedition budget of 1.1 billion euros.

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