While another successful launch of the Polar Space Launch Vehicle (PSLV) calls for celebration, India still has some way to go before it can become a player in the world space launch market.
There are two reasons why. First, as of now, an Indian rocket cannot launch any American satellite, or one with US components, because of the Missile Technology Control Regime embargo on India’s space and military rocket programmes. An official dealing with the issue said, “We are quite far down the road on an agreement to have this embargo lifted under the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership negotiations.” A joint working group would hold its next meeting in Washington in February, he said.
The second reason is that India’s space launch vehicle technology is not yet as developed as that of Russia, the United States, the European Union or Japan. Encyclopedia Astronautica, a web-based database notes that the PSLV compares well with the Chinese Long March CZ4B series when it comes to hoisting satellites to a Low Earth Orbit — to about 2,000 km.
But when it comes to the geo-synchronous orbits of 36,000 km — used for communication satellites such as those that beam TV programmes or are used to relay telephone calls — India still has some catching up to do. The failure of its Geo-synchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) last July has been a setback.
Here again, the Russians, the Americans, and the EU are way ahead of India with rockets that are far superior in terms of reliability and payload. The European Ariane launchers are arguably the most reliable boosters available. The Ariane V can launch two heavy satellites simultaneously. China is a little ahead of India with its CZ3A rocket, which uses a cryogenic engine as its third stage. The Japanese HIIA rocket has an impressive payload capacity of 10 tonnes to the Low Earth Orbit, compared to 3.7 tonnes for the PSLV and 2.8 for the Long March CZ4B.
According to a blog of Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review, reducing launch costs is a major issue around the world, with enormous effort on to find the right combination of engines and technology. But, he says, the world is some distance away from a magic bullet solution to what remains an expensive business.
According to Pushpindar Singh Chopra, editor of the New Delhi-based Vayu Aerospace, beyond a point, countries do not bother about the economics of launch capabilities. “Any country with significant military capability needs to have its own ability to launch satellites for military purposes — imaging, communications and navigation,” he said.