India’s Heaviest Satellite Will Be Launched Soon To Mark A New Beginning Of Communication Chapter

India’s Heaviest Satellite

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set to launch its heaviest satellite, the Gsat-11 weighing over 5.7 tonnes (5,700 kg) from the European spaceport in Guiana on November 30.  The communication satellite, once placed into its orbit, will help increase internet speed. ISRO chairman K Sivan told that Arianespace has agreed to launch the satellite this year itself. “After a series of negotiations, Arianespace has finally agreed to launch Gsat-11 this year itself and fix November 30 as the date of launch,” he said. The satellite was recalled earlier in April this year to fix “possible” glitches. The ISRO had taken this unusual measure to recall the satellite following the failure of the Gsat-6A satellite around the same time.

The recall decision that had led to deferment of its launch, had sparked a controversy when a senior ISRO scientist said that the launch of the heaviest satellite was “unnecessarily” delayed. The satellite had reached Arianespace in March and was slated to lift-off on May 25, but the country’s space agency deferred it due to additional checks. Gsat-11 is the advanced communications satellite to provide multi-spot beam coverage over the Indian mainland and nearby islands. The satellite is capable of providing high bandwidth connectivity with up to 14 gigabit per second data transfer speed.

GSAT-11 could be the last Indian satellite which will be launched by a foreign rocket. According to K Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), if all things work out as intended, the 5.7-tonne GSAT-11 will be most probably the last heavy Indian satellite to be launched by a foreign space agency. The GSAT-11 communication satellite will be launched by Arianespace’s Ariane rocket soon.

The ISRO has cleared for launch GSAT-11, the satellite which was recalled from Kourou in French Guinea for thorough checks, after losing contact with its another satellite that was launched from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. In March this year, an official said. The 5,700-kg GSAT-11 satellite was slated for launch on May 26 from Kourou, a site in South America which India uses to launch its heavy-weight satellite. In a setback to the ISRO, the space agency lost contact with GSAT-6A after it was launched in March this year. Although the ISRO has been trying to establish with GSAT-6A, a satellite meant for military communication, it has found little success. This also led to the ISRO recalling GSAT-11 for conducting thorough checks. “After a thorough check and additional tests, it was found fit for launch,” the official said. The space agency is now waiting for a slot from Arianespace, the company which will launch the satellite, the official added.

Costly proposition

French satellite launch firm Arianespace has shot off a letter to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), forcing on it a condition to launch India’s GSAT-11 communication satellite — that it will be launched only if ISRO sends two of its other communication satellites, GSAT-30 and 31, for Arianespace to launch. Arianespace has demanded that part of the payment for the two future launches be made before August 15, this paper has learnt.

This could push the launch cost of the satellites, something which could have been avoided. The launch of the two satellites by Arianespace is expected to cost Rs 950 crore. Indian Space Commission had sanctioned `960 crore towards design and manufacturing of GSAT-30, 31 and 32. Sources said following the letter sent to ISRO in mid-July, ISRO petitioned the commission seeking an additional `950 crore to launch GSAT-30 and 31 from Arianespace.

This comes after the Union cabinet cleared Rs 10,900 cr in June for 30 PSLV and 10 GSLV Mk III launches in four years, which would have included GSAT-30 and 31, both initially weighing 2.6 tonnes. ISRO has decided to increase the lift-off mass of the GSAT-30 and 31 satellites by an additional 500 kg to 3.1 tonnes. This situation, sources in the U R Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) (formerly ISRO Satellite Centre) said, has caused much bitterness among the senior Indian space scientists over extra costs incurred despite having the capability to launch these satellites indigenously from its launch pad at Sriharikota (80 km north of Chennai), using its GSLV-Mk III satellite launcher. The GSLV-Mk III can launch satellites weighing up to 4 tonnes.  The GSAT-11, weighing 5.7 tonnes, had to be launched by Arianespace due to its weight. It is to be a replacement for INSAT-4CR for providing DTH (direct-to-home) connectivity and other services to many operators.

Opposed the decision

The opposition of former Space Applications Centre Director Tapan Mishra to this proposal by ISRO, succumbing to Arianespace, resulted in his subsequent transfer, say sources in ISRO. A highly placed ISRO official said, “Tapan Mishra, former Applications Director, was among those who had opposed the decision of increasing the weight of the satellites during the Contract Committee meeting soon after Arianespace had written the letter.”

ISRO has claimed it was seeking the services of the French firm due to “uprating failure” of the indigenously developed GSLV-Mk III to launch GSAT-30 and 31, which were scheduled to be launched on board the GSLV Mk III at 60% of the cost charged by Arianespace.

Recall & penalty

Media has learnt that all this was caused due to GSAT-11 being recalled from Kourou where it was sent for the May 2018 launch. Based on a report of a former director of URSC regarding the failure GSAT-6A, the launch of GSAT-11 was delayed and the satellite was shipped back to India from Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana, to check for possible flaws in the satellite. The cost of transport along with transit insurance was estimated to be Rs 90 crore.

The recall was for carrying out “modifications” to prevent any repeat of power systems failure that had occurred in March-end on board GSAT-6A, with which ISRO’s ground stations lost contact following a launch from Sriharikota on March 29, 2018.Sources in URSC sad the decision to ship the satellite back to India was made despite opposition from directors of various ISRO divisions. The decision resulted in ISRO missing the launch date of an important communication satellite. Soon after, Arianespace said it could only provide a launch window at the end of 2019 as ISRO had missed its schedule.

As ISRO was in a pickle with Arianespace, the French firm provided a new window of November 2018 for launch. Now, this delay and the missing of the May launch window due to the GSAT-11’s recall to India has come as a gift for the French firm which appears to have decided to force ISRO into an agreement for launching two additional satellites. Sources said the directors had insisted that adequate care had already been taken to prevent a GSAT-6A-like failure on board GSAT-11 and that it was not necessary to ship the satellite back to India.

As the recall led to missing of the May launch window, there is actually a penalty clause imposable on ISRO. The penalty amounted up to 5% of the Rs 550 crore estimated to be the launch cost of GSAT-11. Despite such a clause existing in the GSAT-11 contract for such eventualities, ISRO did not activate the penalty clause and instead chose to send a proposal to the Space Commission for release of additional funds to the tune of Rs 950 crore. The proposal sought permission to procure launch facilities for GSAT-30 and 31 from Arianespace.

Conclusion

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to usher in an age of high-speed internet connectivity in the country with the launch of heavy-duty communication satellites. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch four more satellites to boost rural internet connectivity under the Digital India project, the space agency’s chairman said.

Similarly, the moon mission ‘Chandrayaan-2’ is also on track and will be launched by the end of this year, chairman K Sivan added. At present, two communication satellites GSAT 20 and GSAT 11 are getting ready for their launch, he said. Commenting about the recent Rs 10,400 crore budget allocation by the centre, Sivan said the funds will help ISRO boost the local economy and create jobs for more than 10,000 people. He added that the agency plans to manufacture 30 indigenous and 10 high end GSLV rockets over the next four years. “The Centre has allocated massive funds for ISRO to aid satellite updates for farmers and fishermen and we are on the job”, he said. He added that seven hundred units of equipment required to tap the satellite inputs are ready.

Of these, 500 sets will be given fishermen in Kerala and 200 will go to fishermen in Tamil Nadu, he added. “We are waiting for the fishing ban period to end and the equipment sets will be handed over to local governments shortly,” he added. According to ISRO sources, the new equipment sets to be given to fishermen will help them locate fish and also will also warn them about the tough sea conditions. It was late last year when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced its daunting goal which included one major launch every month in 2018 and it indeed seemed somewhat impossible for the Indian space agency to achieve this target, considering the failure of the PSLV-C39 flight carrying IRNSS-1H. However, with the successful launch of IRNSS-1I navigation satellite, ISRO has redeemed its IRNSS-1H failure and is looking to amp up the total number of satellite deployments in 2018.

That having been said, when it comes to ISRO’s 2018 missions, the GSAT-6A debacle is something which the Indian space agency is still trying to overcome from but at the same time, the final orbit raising operations of IRNSS-1I navigation satellite might have given the agency a breath of fresh air as well as the confidence of completing its targeted missions for the rest of the year. With three missions already completed, namely the launch of remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2 with the PSLV-C40 rocket in January, GSAT-6A communication satellite on board of the GSLV-F08 rocket on March 29, and then the IRNSS-1I navigation satellite on board the PSLV-C41 rocket, now ISRO’s 2018 missions have a couple of even bigger mentions including Chandrayaan-2, GSAT-29, GSAT-7A, GSAT-11, RISAT-1A among others.

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