State-owned NewSpace India Ltd will offer India’s heaviest rocket – Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle – GSLV Mk-3 against SpaceX’s Falcon 9 as it taps global customers to launch their communication satellites from Indian soil.

The homegrown rocket developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) can launch 4-tonne communication satellites to a geostationary transit orbit (GTO), or 36,000 kilometres into space, and around 10 tonnes of payload to low-earth orbit.

Falcon9 of SpaceX, which reuses boosters to bring down launch costs, can put payloads of up to 8.3 tonnes in GTO and 22 tonnes to low-earth orbit.

“There are many customers who are keen to launch their communication satellites as a dedicated payload instead of (as) a co-passenger,” said D Radhakrishnan, Director – Technical & Strategy, NSIL.

Most communication satellites weigh around 4-5 tonnes and Falcon9, due to its larger capacity, can carry two satellites.

The co-passenger may have to wait for the main satellite to be ready for launch, he said.

GSLV Mk-3 will be competitive in launching 4-tonne class of satellites despite competition from SpaceX and Soyuz, the Russian rocket offered by Arianespace, Radhakrishnan said.

After India opened up its space sector last year, NSIL has been in talks with Isro to take over its proven rockets as well as operating satellites under its fold.

Isro will focus on research, future technologies and deep space missions.

Radhakrishnan said NSIL was also in talks with firms such as OneWeb – which is building a mega constellation of broadband satellites – to offer GSLV Mk-3 to launch the fleet.

“They need to send hundreds of satellites for their constellation, and it has to be replaced every five years,” said Radhakrishnan.

GSLV Mk-3, which has done four launches including India’s second mission to the moon Chandrayaan-2 since its first fight in 2014, will be the vehicle for India’s humanspace flight Gaganyaan planned by 2023.

Two unmanned missions would be flown prior to sending Indian astronauts to space on the rocket.

Following the successful launch of Brazil’s Amazonia satellite on Isro’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which was the first dedicated launch customer for NSIL, it has secured orders to launch four dedicated satellites.

One of them would be on the planned small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV), which will make its first flight this year.

It has also floated a request for proposal (RFP) to five Indian firms to build the PSLV and expects to close the vendor in five months.

The initial order would be for five PSLV rockets.

NSIL is also looking at opportunities from global customers to build and launch satellites from Indian soil as well as operate them on behalf of clients.

Several Indian startups such as Skyroot Aerospace, Agnikul Cosmos, Bellatrix and Ahmedabad-based Omspace Rocket are building small rockets to launch small and medium sized satellites into low-earth orbit.

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