Fifty-years after India’s space programme first test fired a rocket, a new chapter is ready to unfold with the country’s first satellite built actively by the private industry all set to enter space. For the first time, private players have been actively involved in building a full satellite. Their role earlier was limited to supplying components-with 70 engineers from a consortium led by Bengaluru-based Alpha Design Technologies having built the satellite and also tested it. “While this is certainly the first time a private industry, for that matter anybody outside ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) has been part of building a satellite. But the credit for the project must go to ISRO, whose scientists have helped us in every step of the project,” Col HS Shankar, CMD, Alpha Design Technologies told TOI. The consortium has built the eighth satellite to be launched as part of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) programme, a 29-hour countdown to launch which began at 2pm. The 1,425-kg IRNSS-1H satellite is scheduled to be launched at 6.45pm by the PSLV-C39, and sources in the ISRO said that the role of private firms in building the next satellite as part of the programme (IRNSS-1I) will see less participation from ISRO.
“We are confident that the engineers from the consortium will be able to do it. That doesn’t mean we won’t be overseeing the development,” a senior ISRO official said. Shankar, who said that consortium has bagged the orders to build IRNSS-1I and that the work on that has already begun, however, said the value of the same could not be disclosed. The IRNSS-1I is scheduled for an April 2018 launch. Further, in another first, crucial part of the development of IRNSS-1H happened at the newly-developed ISRO Space park in whitefield. TOI had first reported about this park in 2016. The park provides private players the infrastructure needed to participate in space projects, which was planned so that they need not worry about spending too much money. Senior ISRO scientists M Annadurai had said “The space park will see a lot of firms already working with ISRO use our infrastructure and become partners. The land belongs to ISRO and even the infrastructure is being provided by the space agency.”
The IRNSS-1H is a replacement satellite for IRNSS-1A whose atomic clocks failed rendering it useless. “While we already had plans of IRNSS-1H, to be used a spare orbit satellite as part of the programme, it will now serve as the replacement to IRNSS-1A,” an ISRO official said. Further, ISRO officials said that failing of atomic clocks-all three had failed on IRNSS-1A-are not unique to India’s programme. Such failures have occurred even in Russia‘s Glonass and a similar programme of the European Space Agency. The satellite will be launched into a sub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (sub-GTO) with a 284 km perigee (nearest point to Earth) and 20,650 km apogee (farthest point to Earth). After injection into this preliminary orbit, the two solar panels of IRNSS-1H are automatically deployed and the Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan will take control of the satellite and perform the initial orbit raising manoeuvres, and finally place it in its designated slot. Once fully functional, IRNSS will be useful for the railways, surveying and alignment and providing location-based services. The Indian Air Force (IAF) will replace GPS with IRNSS on its fighter planes.