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The home-grown PSLV rocket has nosed its way a wee bit more in the global market: it will launch France’s 712-kg SPOT-7 earth observation satellite and separately, at least half-a- dozen small foreign spacecraft for a fee this year and the next.

They are still mini nibbles at the multi-billion-dollar space transportation pie but the country’s workhorse launcher seems to be increasingly catching satellite makers’ eye for its dependable and precise placing of spacecraft in their slots. Going by the mass of the client satellites, its cache is getting bigger than before.

In the upcoming crop of contracts, SPOT-7 and the 950-kg EnMAP are primary satellites, which means the PSLV is graduating from tucking small commercial ‘piggybacks’ in spare nooks left over by a main Indian passenger spacecraft.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, K. Radhakrishnan, told The Hindu that a few more countries were discussing sending another half-a-dozen satellites on the PSLV.

The contracted ones would be fitted into the launch schedule of ISRO’s own remote sensing satellites which need the PSLV. One of them, Indonesia’s LAPAN-A2 observation satellite, is due to go with the country’s astronomy project, Astrosat. Eight PSLV launches are planned during 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The PSLV can place roughly 1.6-tonne satellites in a pole-to-pole orbit 650 km away from ground. In 2008, it also sent up Chandrayaan-1 and will again come into planetary play in October this year for ISRO’s Mars orbiter mission.

The launcher made its first commercial twin launch in 1999. In its 23 flights so far, it has slotted 35 foreign commercial satellites in orbit.

“The PSLV, I should say, is now a globally sought after vehicle and for two reasons,” Dr. Radhakrishnan said. “One, it has a niche in that class of payloads. Two, the number of successful launches we have had with it is an important factor. The very fact that SPOT-6 came to us and now SPOT-7 and EnMAP have followed indicates this.”

The fee it commands is not disclosed but ISRO’s marketing arm Antrix Corporation has earned between Rs. 5 crore and Rs. 90 crore for some of its commercial services. The U.S. and European launch prices per kg of satellite weight reportedly range from $10,000-$20,000 depending on the distance to the orbit.

EnMAP, the hyperspectral environmental mapping satellite built by German space agency DLR, will be the heaviest lift bagged by the PSLV and is slated for 2016-17 launch.

To date, SPOT-6, the earth observation satellite of French space agency CNES, is the heaviest commercial satellite that a PSLV has lifted to space and that was in September last year. A date for SPOT-7 will be discussed when signing the agreement. “One can expect the launch from December onwards,” Dr. Radhakrishnan said.

The date would depend on the readiness of the satellite, the launch vehicle and the launch pad at Sriharikota which will be tied up for the first navigational satellite R1A planned in June and thereafter for the resumed GSLV flight.

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