SpaceShare, a New Indian Project to Democratise Access to Space
By Vasudevan Mukunth
A Mumbai-based company is set to crowdsource payloads from around the country, and assemble and deliver them to ISRO to be flown on a PSLV mission.
The PSLV C31 before its launch. Photo: ISRO
In January this year, officials of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) realised they had some room on an upcoming mission of the PSLV rocket, designated C45. The launch was to happen in February.
Satellize, formerly ExSeed Space, a Mumbai-based private company that builds satellites, expressed interest. But it was surprised when officials said on January 20 that it had a week’s time to deliver. But for the rush Satellize was able to send a fully qualified digital transponder for use on February 1.
The C45 mission eventually lifted off only on April 1. The fourth stage of the PSLV rocket on this mission, designated PS4, was special. Usually, the PSLV’s fourth stage carries the satellites it has to deploy into space, and once it does, it drifts into a fixed but aimless orbit around Earth.
But on the C45 mission, ISRO had upgraded the PS4 fourth stage. Once the primary payload had been launched, the PS4 would act like a satellite – fit with instruments of its own – as it settled into a polar orbit around Earth at about 500 km. The instruments could conduct observations and perform small experiments.
At the time of launch, ISRO predicted Satellize’s transponder, to service amateur radio operators in the country, would work for three months. “Now it has been six months, and the orbital parameters and telemetry data suggests the transponder can go on for another two years,” said Ashhar Farhan, founder and CTO of Satellize.
On the back of this success, ISRO asked the company to join the organisation’s PS4 apex committee and invited it to propose other instruments to be flown on future missions. Satellize already had one satellite launched before this, onboard a SpaceX rocket in December 2018.
That said, anything launched to space from India has to be on an ISRO rocket, so Satellize sensed an opportunity.
The big box
Under a programme called SpaceShare, Satellize is set to crowdsource 10 payloads from around the country, fit them together in “one big box” – Farhan’s words – and deliver that to ISRO to be flown on the next available orbital platform mission.
The big box, a.k.a. the SpaceShare chassis. Photo: Satellize
Because this is an ISRO initiative, as opposed to NewSpace Ltd. or Antrix, only non-commercial payloads are eligible to participate.
“We are going to solicit payloads based on the Eurocard form factor,” Farhan said, referring to the size specification of a standard printed circuit board. So each payload that goes into the box will have to measure 16 cm × 10 cm × 5 cm.
A schematic view of the SpaceShare chassis. The image on the right indicates how the payloads will be arranged inside the box. Photo: Satellize
Satellize will help the teams behind the selected payloads test their instruments to ensure they can survive launch and spaceflight.
After ISRO integrates this box onto the platform and launches the mission, the rocket will eject other satellites into their respective orbits before the PS4 part kicks in.
One side of the box carrying the crowd-sourced payloads is fit with a transparent panel that Farhan said will be “space-facing” to, for example, allow cameras to take photographs.
Deadlines in October
ISRO has agreed to donate a 200-W solar panel while Satellize will provide the power system and serial ports. Farhan said they would also take care of the ground stations in such a way that the data from each payload will be made available on the respective owners’ smartphones. This way, the participants can focus just on the payloads.
And all that remains now is to finalise and build the payloads. The Satellize website provides a link to the application form. The deadline for submissions is October 15. The payloads will be shortlisted by October 20, followed by a workshop at the Satellize lab in Hyderabad and then a six-week period to build the device.
“We will evaluate the applications on the basis of usefulness to the country and to India’s space programme, in joint consultation with ISRO,” Raju Prasad, the chief business officer of Satellize, said.
Satellize expects to deliver the fully integrated box to ISRO by December 27. The PSLV launch schedule will be determined by ISRO alone.
The entire endeavour is expected to cost the participants a lakh rupees or so – a far cry from the crores of rupees required to send satellites to space a decade ago.
“A lot of people would like to start building space payloads but they don’t have the wherewithal or don’t exactly know what to do,” Farhan said. “This way we can incubate other groups outside ISRO.”
Such groups already exist but they are too few relative to India’s size. Indeed, observers have acknowledged the country’s private space sector is miles behind its counterparts in China and the US.
Part of the problem is that ISRO and the Department of Space are just beginning to loosen their grip on the national space sector, although its members have been supportive to various degrees of private efforts. The department is also working on a Space Activities Bill expected to formalise the governance of private players and provide newcomers with a way to navigate the bureaucracy.
But this hasn’t stopped some companies from pushing the envelope, especially since investor interest is also on the rise.
Bellatrix Aerospace and Dhruva Space are working on small satellites and thruster components while others like Kawa Space and SatSure want to help companies make more efficient use of data obtained by space-based assets. Skyroot Aerospace builds rockets for small satellites and Rocketeers wants to spread the appreciation of spaceflight using model rockets.
Satellize’s SpaceShare extends these efforts in its own way.
Space Activities Bill, meant to boost private role, will create confusion instead
The draft Space Activities Bill, which might be presented in the winter session of Parliament, leaves crucial newspace facets unconsidered.
By Narayan Prasad, 11 October, 2019 12:00 pm IST
View from the International Space Station | Bloomberg
Berlin: When India’s Department Of Space (DoS), overseen by PM Modi himself, put forth a draft space legislation in 2017, one of its main aims was to create a legal framework to encourage the participation of Indian industry, including start-ups, oversee their performance, and facilitate growth.
The bill might soon be tabled in Parliament, but it has, in its current form, glaring lacunae that are likelier to breed chaos than put Indian space activities on solid footing.
For one, the draft focuses heavily on the need to have a licensing regime to govern the activities of emerging Indian companies that deal with newspace — as growing private participation in space has come to be known — but does not really go down to the actual regulatory needs of the companies, which will need operational clarity for business.
For example, a company planning to build, launch, and operate its own spacecraft to provide services over India will need access to space frequencies for telemetry, telecommand and payload operations. Similarly, a company looking to establish its own private launch vehicle will need necessary clearances to conduct tests through authorised access to potential launch ranges.
The regulatory framework needed for different types of space activities is fundamentally different too.
For instance, the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act — the American equivalent of the proposed Indian law — comprises individual sections for remote sensing, launch vehicles, spacecraft and operations, space resource utilisation, etc with separate regulations for each type of activity.
Therefore, a national space legislation with blanket regulations to cover all companies, which could be pursuing activities as different as remote sensing and deep-space exploration, may not provide the regulatory clarity required.
The US also has agencies, designated as such by the government, for the industry to interface with, in order to ensure compliance with regulations. To avoid conflict of interest, NASA, the civil space agency, is not one of the designated bodies for regulatory compliance.
As far as India’s draft space legislation is concerned, the fundamental question to be answered is whether the DoS in India is prioritising a top-down or a bottom-up approach of regulating the industry: Whether it is mainly addressing international obligations through the formulation of national space legislation, or looking at the requirements of each type of commercial space activity and providing the necessary regulatory clarity.
This is important as more and more space companies are cropping up in India, a trend expected to continue.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the draft bill follows the former path.
Had the DoS taken a bottom-up perspective, the national space bill would have had different sections covering different types of commercial space activities, and taken a concrete look at their individual requirements.
Instead, the draft space bill, as of now, only makes a passing mention of the industry’s actual requirements. Sample this: According to the draft, “The Central Government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act”, including “the manner of providing authorisation to launch or operate commercial space activities”.
It appears that the consultation process needed to engage with the space industry, including emerging start-ups, has either not been done rigorously or completely disregarded.
Passing the space legislation as is, without including actual mechanics for each of the different types of space activities, will not provide the regulatory clarity needed for conducting space activities by emerging companies. It will perhaps create more confusion for investors, besides the newspace firms themselves.
One of the main drawbacks of the draft bill is that it fails to identify or even create an independent authority that can, with no conflict of interest, work with the industry to govern its activities.
The ISRO chairman being the secretary, Department of Space, and chairman of the Space Commission adds to the confusion, raising questions about how an independent regulator can be evolved in the space sector.
Given the wide range of activities within the space value chain, it may take several iterations to come up with regulatory aspects tailored to each of them.
One of the simple ways to allow this would be by just establishing an independent body through the space bill, which can then, in consultation with stakeholders, formulate specific rules and regulations.
Taking inspiration from successes such as the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM, the trade association for the information technology industry), the space industry in India needs to create an independent voice through a dedicated association that can specifically create a platform for opinions and also interface with the government to establish a sustainable regulatory landscape for commercial space activities in India.
Replying to a question in the Lok Sabha in December 2018, the government said it had invited suggestions on the draft bill and received 52 responses that “fall broadly under the category of seeking clarifications and suggestions on certain provisions, such as scope of space activities, regulatory mechanism, licencing and authorisation procedures, sharing of liability burden with a limit on damage costs, penal provisions, powers of Central Government, etc”.
Whether concerns on its content have been addressed will only be known once the bill is presented in Parliament, which is likely in the upcoming winter session.
Pvt sector to get 70% of upcoming space projects worth up to $1.6 bn: Isro
In the last 25 years, the space agency has launched more than 50 PSLV rockets, and wants to launch another 50 in the next five years
By T E Narasimhan | Thiruvananthapuram
Last Updated at January 31, 2020 14:59 IST
Nearly 70 per cent of the upcoming space programmes, estimated at $1.5-1.6 billion, are likely to go to private industry, a senior Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) official said.
The development comes at a time when Isro is planning to increase the number of launches for domestic (civilian, defence, and private sector) and for international customers.
In the last 25 years, the space agency has launched more than 50 polar satellite launch (PSLV) rockets, and in the next five years Isro wants to launch 50 more, said T V Haridas, deputy director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananathapuram. VSSC is the centre responsible for all launch vehicle programs of Isro.
PSLV’s launch rate success is 96 per cent, with 48 out of 50 mission getting completed.
Speaking on the sidelines of Edge 2020, the Space Technology Conclave at Thiruvananthapuram, Haridas said that the government cleared 30 PSLV missions. The missions are valued at around $870 million. Another 10 geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) launches are approved and they are valued at around $600 million.
The government and Isro have been encouraging private sector to participate in the vehicle assembling so that the space agency can spend its time in developing applications for country's need.
"Nearly 70 per cent of the total value will go to industry, including materials, fabrication etc.," said Haridas.
Isro's new commercial arm NewSpace India Ltd has called for Expressions of Interest (EoI) from domestic private sector to make five PSLV rockets. An Indian industry consortium will be responsible for the end-to-end realisation of the solid and liquid fuel-powered stages/engines of the rocket/PSLV.
PSLV is Isro's workhorse. It places satellites into Low Earth Orbit and has is capable of carrying multiple satellites and putting them into different orbits.
Upon successful and satisfactory completion of realisation of the first lot of five PSLVs, NewSpace India/Isro will enhance the scope for realisation of PSLV’s to 12 numbers per annum, under a separate contract.
The private industry will use Isro's existing supply chain.
After 2021, PSLV will be manufactured only by companies. A consortium of L&T and HAL will be the prime contractors. The rest of the ecosystem plays under them.
Isro will no longer procure various parts from 200-plus suppliers and assemble the vehicle. That job will now be entrusted to these two of these companies with help from other current eco partners.
All solids and interstage in future would stay with L&T. The liquid along with tankages would be with HAL. Godrej will become a tier-I supplier to HAL, while Walchand will become a tier-I supplier to L&T.
The first launch of PSLV completely built by industries is planned in 2021, said Isro officials.
In a first, Ananth Tech will build 6 satellites for foreign customers
By Ayan Pramanik
Last Updated: Feb 11, 2020, 08.00 AM IST The country has an opportunity to integrate medium-sized satellites, Pavuluri said, because they are designed to last for over five years and companies invest huge sums in building them.
Isro is developing a small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV), a rocket that can be turned around every two days and designed to hurl 400 kg satellites into low-earth orbit.(Representative Image)
Bengaluru: Aerospace firm Ananth Technologies has signed deals to build six foreign-owned satellites in India, a first by a private firm as it taps the country's low-cost base to make satellites for global customers.
The Hyderabad-based Ananth, a supplier of systems for the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro) satellites, is opening a fullfledged satellite-making facility later this month in Bengaluru, where it will build satellites weighing between 50 kg and 250 kg for customers in Sweden and France, chairman and managing director Subba Rao Pavuluri told ET.
“We can fully integrate satellites at around 30% lower costs (than in the West),” said Pavuluri. “We will also help them launch from Indian soil.”
He did not name the customers citing confidentiality agreements.
Ananth Technologies has been a supplier of satellite systems and sub-systems for India’s space agency and has also integrated the solar panels for these satellites. Its new facility is designed to fully integrate satellites for both local and overseas customers.
India’s decades-long expertise in building satellites has helped create a critical talent base, giving it an edge in tapping outsourcing avenues. The country has an opportunity to integrate medium-sized satellites, Pavuluri said, because they are designed to last for over five years and companies invest huge sums in building them.
“We are offering end-to-end service. Integrating the satellite, identifying the rocket and launching them from Indian soil,” he said.
India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has emerged as the preferred rocket to hurl small and medium satellites into space. In the five years to fiscal year 2019, Isro earned Rs 1,254.19 crore from launching satellites for global customers from the US, UK, Japan and Germany, among others.
Isro is developing a small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV), a rocket that can be turned around every two days and designed to hurl 400 kg satellites into low-earth orbit.
Antrix Corp, the commercial arm of Isro, had signed a contract in the past with EADS Astrium to build a communication satellite for British media firm Avanti Screenmedia Group.
Isro has formed New Space India, a new entity to engage with the industry to build and launch satellites on Indian soil.
Other upcoming full-fledged satellite production initiatives include the proposed production facility to be built jointly by Berlin Space Technologies and Ahmedabadbased Azista Aerospace.
Analysts said “a lot of companies are planning to follow this model”, but it could be more interesting if the production of full-fledged satellites brings in a satellite services industry.
“These companies can be an outsourcing hub for manufacturing satellites for certain global companies and take advantage of the lowcosts in (India),” said Narayan Prasad, an industry analyst and cofounder of satsearch.com. “What is going to be more exciting is that if service providers in the field of communication or imaging emerge as a result of such satellite producing facilities.”
This Bengaluru start-up makes propulsion systems for ISRO. This is their awesome story
We speak to Yashas Karnam to learn more about Bellatrix Aerospace, a start-up that produces efficient propulsion systems for the likes of ISRO and DRDO. They are one among the top suppliers
By Rashmi Patil.
Rohan and Yashas along with their team (Pic: Bellatrix)
Over the past few years, Bellatrix Aerospace has become a known name in the field of Aeronautical Engineering, all thanks to Rohan Ganapathy's innovation - Microwave Plasma Thrusters (MPT) - that have been installed in Indian satellite systems, making them lighter and cheaper. In 2012, when Rohan was studying Aeronautical Engineering at Coimbatore's Hindustan College of Engineering and Technology, he started working on the MPT and was keen on installing this innovative propulsion system in satellites. To this end, he proposed this idea to Sajjan Jindal, the Chairman of JSW Group whom he met at one of the events in his college. The latter was so impressed with the idea that he offered Rohan various grants to set up his own company and thus is the origin of Bellatrix Aerospace on the college campus in Coimbatore.
Rohan Ganapathy & Yashas Karanam founders of Bellatrix Aerospace.
As the team expanded and Rohan needed more hands to work on his project, his friend Yashas Karnam who has completed Electrical and Electronics Engineering joined the company. When we ask him what brought them to Bengaluru, where the company is currently housed, this 26-year-old engineer says, "We realised that we would be getting many experts on board to work with us and through the Society for Innovation and Development (SID), we shifted to the Indian Institute of Science. With money comes the infrastructure, but we were yet to work on the machine itself. Here, we got the equipment and the machinery to work on and test out the propulsion system that we called MPT."
Rohan working on machinery at IISC (Pic: Bellatrix)
Curious to know more about MPT and how it works, we ask Yashas to explain what makes it unique. He says, "Do you know what is the biggest challenge for any country while sending their satellite into space? It is spending money on fuel as well as the weight of the satellite's systems. More the weight, the higher the cost. In satellites, there are two types of propulsion systems, while one is the chemical propulsion system, the other is the electric propulsion system. Traditionally, all our satellites carry chemical propulsion and this requires tonnes of fuel to keep the satellite in Earth’s orbit. We felt that it was not an efficient way as there is little space for everything else. On top of that, paying for fuel would cost more than it would to design the system."
Electric propulsion for ISRO satellites designed by Bellatrix Aerospace
That's when Rohan and the team thought about coming up with an alternative. Yashas explains, "The space industry is slowly adopting the electric propulsion technology in satellites as it requires less fuel. You need more electricity and less fuel and power can be produced using hi-tech solar panels. What we are doing through MPT is providing an advanced electric propulsion system. Usually, the electrodes in the electric propulsion system get corroded when they are in orbit. This reduces its lifespan. But MPT provides zero-corrosion electric propulsion systems that are lightweight and have a long lifespan, which can keep the satellite going for a long time in the space system. It will also decrease the cost spent on fuel and gives more space to fix transponders or what we call communication systems."
While this research was happening, Rohan met A. S. Kiran, the then Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and explained to him the concept. Intrigued, the team was asked to demonstrate the working of the propulsion system at their office and impressed with their idea, ISRO decided to place an order for their MPT system. Even DRDO placed an order for the same. Now, Bellatrix Aerospace is on the suppliers' list of two of the most prestigious organisations in India. With the growing demand of the space industry, Yashas believes that they have to come up with various innovations and constantly improve their system if they want to survive in the market. "The space market has many foreign companies and suppliers too. There is enough competition to survive. To keep up, we keep developing different engines and systems that are required for the satellites to work," he concludes.
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