PSLV: A SpaceX/ULA/Ariane Alternative?

A PSLV launch, but not this article’s PSLV launch. Image from Wikimedia.org.

The Indians continue proving they are in the space business for real.  The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), their success with the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV), and their continued success with their latest launch today of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (formerly known as Sriharikota Launching Range), are all examples of India’s commitment to move forward into space.

Today’s PSLV launch successfully inserted a French SPOT 7 imagery satellite into a sun-synchronous low earth orbit (LEO).  Five small satellites were also boosted into orbit by PSLV:  Canada’s University of Toronto two satellites, numbered 4 and 5, from the Canadian advanced nanospace eXperiment program (CanX); one picosat (PSAT) and nanosat (NSAT) from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University VELOX-I; and a German ship-tracking satellite, Automatic Identification System satellite 1 (AISat 1).  All of these satellite will be in LEO as well.

Such an international satellite payload base should be no surprise when you consider the cost of a PSLV launch:  $75 million.  This is small change compared the to the mounting costs of launching a rocket through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program run through the United Launch Alliance (ULA–about $450 million per launch–here’s why), but may be a little more that what a SpaceX launch costs ($56-$60 million).  PSLV even gives the Arianespace Ariane5 launches, which currently run at about $192 million per launch, some interesting competition.

While $75 million per launch nearly seems downright reasonable in the weird world of the space launch business, keep in mind that  that number is also nearly the price of what it cost India to run an entire Mars probe program, MOM, in which the probe, Mangalyaan, is expected to orbit the red planet this September.

GSLV, PSLV, and MOM–they are all proof positive to any doubters that the Indians are very serious about moving out into space.  Add in the very inexpensive costs of launch and space project management, and it shouldn’t be very surprising they are rapidly gaining space business from other nations.  IF the Indians, through their Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), can successfully keep the costs down while increasing launch frequency and availability, then this development could be quite a boon for India, economically, technologically, and perhaps socially(?).

I wonder if they have any work for me over there?  Hmmmm…

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