A consortium of mid- and small-sized firms led by Bengaluru-based aerospace firm Alpha Design Technologies has built IRNSS-1L, the backup navigation satellite with a new atomic clock, under the watchful eyes of Isro. It is also the first satellite to be built at a special Isro facility for private firms.
This is the second satellite the private team has built for Isro. The previous one was lost in August last year, when the heat shield of the rocket failed to open and let out the spacecraft.
An inquiry later found an explosive had failed to detonate fully, to break the latch of the heat case or conical top of the PSLV, where satellites are housed as they are carried into space.
“This satellite will demonstrate expertise of the private consortium. It will be the start of Isro’s journey of using the industry to be system integrators of satellites,” said an Isro scientist, who did not want to be named.
Isro declined to comment. Alpha Design chief executive Col HS Shankar declined to comment. So far, Isro has developed and built satellites, spacecraft and rockets on its own, while depending on firms such as Godrej, Larson and Toubro and Bharat Electronics for systems and sub-systems.
The agency is building expertise among private firms to meet its need of 70 large communication and earth observation satellites in the next five years and tap a global satellite market explosion. It is resource-constrained as it looks to focus on building next-generation satellites, rockets, and craft for deep space exploration.
Last November, Isro floated a tender to outsource manufacturing of 60 satellites, offering to transfer technology to private companies to build capabilities so they service the local market as well as grab global business.
According to Euroconsult, over 3,000 satellites of over 50 kg will be built by government and commercial organisations by 2026. In addition, a new wave of companies that look at building over 3,000 microsatellites are emerging globally.
The biggest is OneWeb, the satellite firm backed by Richard Branson and Softbank that plans to launch over 1,000 satellites.
Not just satellite outsourcing, Isro also wants Indian firms to build and launch satellites on PSLV. The PSLV has emerged as the workhorse to send small satellites from across the globe into space and has begun the process of allowing the private sector to build and launch its first PSLV by 2020.