India’s PSLV launches two British satellites for SSTL

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WASHINGTON — Two Earth observation satellites for Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) lifted off Sept. 16 on India’s lightest version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The launch, India’ first in five months, highlighted the United Kingdom’s desire to bolster trade with India as well as India’s desire to further commercialize production of the PLSV, a rocket often used for smallsat missions.

The “core alone” version of the PSLV, which did not use any strap on boosters, lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, at 12:38 p.m. Eastern, placing the satellites in 580-kilometer sun-synchronous orbits 17 minutes later.

Satellite manufacturer and operator SSTL confirmed the health of its NovaSAR-1 radar satellite and the S1-4 optical imaging satellite after the launch.

NovaSAR-1 is a technology demonstration mission with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload from SSTL’s parent company Airbus Defence and Space. SSTL built the 445-kilogram satellite in Guildford, U.K., with a 21 million pound ($27.6 million) investment from the U.K. Space Agency.

Honeywell Aerospace provided an Automatic Identification System payload that enables maritime vessels imaged with SAR to be matched with ship-tracking data.

S1-4 is the fourth satellite SSTL built to operate for the Chinese company Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology Co., which signed a 25 million pound contract in February to lease the imaging capacity of the satellite for its entire life, which SSTL expects will top seven years. The 444-kilogram, sub-meter imaging satellite joins three identical satellites known as “TripleSat.”

SSTL arranged the PSLV launch through Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian space agency ISRO.

In July, U.K. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox kicked off a 1.5 billion pound “Space Exports” campaign to facilitate increased trade with India and the United States. Fox, in a statement following the PSLV-C42 launch, encouraged other companies to follow SSTL’s steps and also to make use of UK Export Finance, an export-credit agency that sees less use within the space industry than those of other nations such as France and the U.S.

“SSTL is a fantastic example of how UK innovation and engineering can have a global impact,” he said.

ISRO Chairman K. Sivan used the launch to highlight the success of the PSLV and encourage Indian industry as ISRO transfers more responsibility for the rocket to the private sector.

“This success will give added energy for industries to make PSLV by themselves,” he said in a statement.

Sivan, during a speech following the launch, said the transition is already in process and that industry should be handling PSLV production “within a year or so.”