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Watch this space

ISRO couldn’t have chosen a better way to celebrate 50 years of space flight than by launching its first commercial venture.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2007 22:53 IST

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) couldn’t have chosen a better way to celebrate 50 years of space flight than by launching its first commercial venture: lofting the Italian Space Agency’s satellite, AGILE, into orbit. Isro’s workhorse booster, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is to carry the satellite into space on April 23. The launch will be a watershed for the Indian space agency, as it marks a big step towards garnering a large slice of the lucrative global satellite launch market. With Isro reportedly planning to launch Russian satellites and an Indonesian micro-satellite later this year, it could corner a healthy 10 per cent share of all commercial space launches in the world in the next five years.
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Isro should not, however, focus overly on the PSLV launcher alone. If India is to make its mark in the international launch market, it is imperative that it leapfrogs to advanced versions of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) as soon as possible. The GSLV remains India’s best bet for launching five-tonne payloads into geo-stationary orbit and its successful development is crucial if India is to reduce its dependence on foreign launchers like the Ariane to launch satellites weighing more than 2.5 tonnes. And even that won’t be enough. Satellite launch vehicles usually have a maximum of three to five per cent payload fraction capability in orbit (i.e. if they weigh 100 tonnes at lift-off, they can put three to five tonnes in low-earth orbit). So, to meet future demands of launching heavier payloads at lesser cost, even conventional boosters must make way for reusable launch vehicles (RLVs) whose low maintenance and quick turnaround time would cut launch costs to less than a tenth of current costs.

A moon-struck Isro has an added incentive to accelerate its programmes on developing technologies like air-breathing engines for the RLV. For the RLV will also give India the capability to build a space station.