For Airbus, Modi Visit Opens Door To Building Larger Satellites in India

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PARIS — Airbus Defence and Space on April 11 said it stands ready to build large telecommunications satellites in India as part of a reinforced presence there being encouraged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi visited Airbus’ Toulouse, France, production facility April 11 as part of a Franco-Indian summit. He also visited the Toulouse Space Center, which is the largest installation of the French space agency, CNES.

Airbus said after the visit that the company is confident “links with Indian industry in this space sector will grow in the coming years through the cooperation on design and manufacturing of larger telecommunications satellites in India.”

Airbus already uses Indian suppliers on a regular basis, with about $400 million going to 40 companies in 2014 for Airbus-managed projects.

Airbus officials said they were confident that technology-transfer and product-liability issues that have slowed joint ventures with India in the past are now being pushed aside as Modi seeks to modernize India’s industrial base.

Modi, Le Gall, CNES
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) tours CNES with Jean-Yves Le Gall. Credit: Prime Minister Modi’s Office

Airbus in 2006 created a joint venture with Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, to produce commercial telecommunications satellites. Airbus built the payload according to individual customer specifications, and Antrix had charge of the satellite’s platform.

Two satellites were built and launched, for satellite fleet operators Eutelsat of Paris and Avanti Communications of London, the latter with the assistance of the European Space Agency.

That was the end of the road for the joint venture, which has been absent from the commercial market since these first two orders for relatively small satellites weighing no more than 3,000 kilograms at launch with onboard power of around 4 kilowatts.

Antrix’s difficulty in keeping up with Indian domestic demand for television broadcast satellites has been a problem for years and remains one today, making India a potential El Dorado for satellite builders and operators.

Modi’s government has suggested that it may loosen regulations that make it difficult for non-Indian satellite operators to do business in India. In particular, ISRO is both the telecommunications satellite regulator for India and, through Antrix, a builder of telecommunications satellites.

CNES and ISRO on April 10 signed an upgraded cooperation agreement that CNES said would include putting a French Argos 4 tracking terminal on India’s Oceansat mission to launch in 2018, and early studies in infrared imaging for Earth observation satellites. CNES said the agreement also foresees a French contribution to India’s planned mission to Mars.