The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) much-delayed indigenous new launch rockets, called the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), will have its maiden development flight in April, new Chairman Dr S Somanath indicated during Tuesday’s meeting with Union Minister of State for Space Jitendra Singh.
In an official statement, the Press Information Bureau said Dr Somanath mentioned the launch of an “SSLV-D1 Micro SAT in April 2022”.
The SSLV aims to cater to the market for the launch of small satellites into Earth’s low orbits that has emerged in recent years to cater to the need of developing countries, universities for small satellites, and private corporations.
Small satellite launches have so far depended on ‘piggy-back’ rides with big satellite launches on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) — ISRO’s work-horse with more than 50 successful launches. As a result, small satellite launches have relied on ISRO finalising launch contracts for larger satellites.
Dr Somanath is credited with designing and developing the SSLV during his tenure as director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram since 2018. The maiden flight of the SSLV was scheduled to launch in July 2019 but that has since been delayed due to setbacks from Covid-19 and other issues.
The SSLV can carry satellites weighing a maximum 500 kg to low orbit, while the PSLV can launch satellites weighing above 1000 kg.
Former ISRO chief K Sivan had said in 2019 that the SSLV was its smallest vehicle at 110-ton mass and would take 72 hours to integrate, unlike the 70 days taken for a launch vehicle. The entire job will only require six people instead of 60 and could be completed in a short time with minimal cost — around Rs 30 crore.
National demand alone would mean a requirement of 15 to 20 SSLVs a year, Sivan said in an industry meet that year.
The SSLV received a commercial booking from US space launch services intermediary Spaceflight Inc in 2019. Spaceflight said it had clinched a deal with a commercial arm of ISRO to use the SSLV rocket’s second developmental flight to launch a spacecraft for a “US-based satellite constellation” customer.
ISRO has previously said that the development and manufacture of SSLVs would create greater synergy between private Indian industries and the space sector — among the space ministry’s key aims. Indian industry has a consortium for PSLV production and should come together to produce the SSLV once it is tested, ISRO said.
Among the many aims ISRO’s new commercial arm, New Space India Limited, is to use research and development for commercial purposes through the Indian industry. Over 500 industries are contributing to ISRO programmes at present, and over half the project budget outlay for space programmes flows to these industries.