India’s PSLV launches 8 satellites in a record fifth mission this year
PARIS — India’s PSLV rocket on Sept. 26 successfully placed the Indian SCATSAT-1 meteorological satellite and seven co-passengers into separate polar low Earth orbits.
Operating from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, the PSLV completed a record fifth mission in a calendar year, breaking the the four-launch record of 2015. A sixth had been planned for late this year but may be delayed until 2017.
The Sept. 26 launch, called PSLV-C35, had been delayed from July in what an industry official said were bottlenecks in PSLV production as ISRO pushes the PSLV supply chain to accelerate the launch rate to record levels.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officials have said their goal for PSLV is to increase its launch cadence to between six and eight per year and to gradually transfer the vehicle’s development to the private sector.
Boosting the PSLV’s launch cadence will help cut production and operations costs and broaden the vehicle’s already substantial appeal to foreign customers.
The Indian prime minister’s Union Cabinet in May 2015 had budgeted 30.9 billion Indian rupees ($460 million) for 15 PSLV missions between 2017 and 2020, starting with PSLV-C36. The budget includes both vehicle production and launch services.
The PSLV-35 launch included three satellites for the Algerian government, two for Indian universities, a satellite de-orbiting and aircraft tracking technology demonstrator for Canada, and Seattle-based BlackSky Global’s first high-resolution optical Earth imaging satellite, called Pathfinder-1.
The explosion in the number of small satellites — some commercial, some governmental, some technology research efforts by universities — has opened an opportunity for light- and medium-lift vehicles like PSLV, especially given the reduced availability for converted ballistic missions from Russia and Ukraine.
Europe’s Vega rocket, which just completed its seventh launch, is positioning itself as a PSLV competitor. Vega builders and operators are trying to raise the launch rate to at least three per year.
Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow and its commercial arm, International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, recently announced two new versions of the Proton heavy-lift rocket, both targeting smaller satellites and both dedicated to the commercial market.
The PSLV-C35 mission separated India’s 371-kilogram SCATSAT-1 meteorological satellite into a 730-kilometer orbit some 17 minutes and 30 seconds after liftoff. The vehicle’s liquid-fueled upper stage then effectuated two re-ignition and coast maneuvers to release the seven co-passengers into an orbit of 689 kilometers, with the last one released one hour and 58 minutes after SCATSat-1.
“We have been able to put different satellites, from different countries, plus our own SCATSAT-1 into different orbits at different local times,” ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said after the launch. “This is one of the new capabilities which PSLV has demonstrated.”
ISRO said SCATSAT-1 was healthy in orbit and sending telemetry.
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain, which designed and built the 103-kilogram Alsat-1B — with assembly, integration and test performed in Algeria — said the satellite was healthy in orbit. The satellite is designed to operate from a 670-kilometer orbit to provide agricultural monitoring for the government of Algeria.
Alsat-1B carries an imager with a 12-meter ground resolution in black-and-white mode, and 24 meters in color, with a 140-kilometer swath width.
Alsat-2B, weighing 117 kilograms, was built by Airbus Defence and Space as part of a contract that included Alsat-2A, launched by in July 2010. It carries a 2-meter-resolution optical imager. The Algerian Space Agency, ASAL, said the launch was successful but did not specifically say it had received telemetry.
Canada’s NLS-19 satellite, also known as CanX-7, was built by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies and is designed to test satellite deorbiting technology and an experimental aircraft-tracking terminal.
The 7-kilogram Alsat-1N is a technology demonstration satellite built as a collaboration between the British and Algerian governments.
BlackSky Global of Seattle, Washington, said its 44-kilogram Pathfinder-1 was healthy in orbit. BlackSky plans a constellation of 60 satellites, each with a 1-meter-resolution imager, for its commercial geospatial imagery service. The company’s second satellite is awaiting a launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Two Indian university technology demonstration satellites, the 10-kilogram Pratham and 5.25-kilogram PISAT, were also aboard the launch.