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ISRO crosses key milestone, launched 300 foreign satellites in 20 years

With the successful launch of PSLV-C47 carrying 13 US nano-satellites and primary payload new-generation earth-imaging satellite Cartosat-3 on Wednesday morning, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has crossed a key milestone by launching 300 foreign satellites from 33 countries in 20 years. With Wednesday's launch, the count of foreign satellites launched by India for a fee has now touched the 310 figure.

Interestingly, the order to launch the 13 US nano-satellites was contracted by Isro's newly formed commercial arm NewSpace India Ltd, which has a business plan identical to that of existing commercial wing Antrix Corporation. Of the 13 US satellites launched, 12 named as FLOCK-4P are earth observation satellites and 13th called MESHBED is a communication testbed satellite. Among all the foreign satellites launched till now was the historic PSLV launch of 104 satellites in one go on February 15, 2017, for which Isro still holds the world record. Of the 104 satellites, 101were foreign customers, one was primary satellite Cartosat-2 and two nano-satellites belonged to Isro.

India started its foreign satellite launch service with the liftoff of Germany's remote sensing microsatellite DLR-TUBSAT from Sriharikota on May 26, 1999. Among the 33 countries, the US has turned out to be the biggest satellite customer for Isro as over 190 of the total 310 belonged to the country. Countries that have frequently availed of PSLV services are Germany, Canada, Japan, Korea, UK, Singapore and Algeria.

The launch of the United Kingdom's NovaSAR and S1-4 together on September 16 last year that weighed 445kg each is till now the heaviest foreign satellite payload carried by PSLV in one go. The launch was also PSLV's fully commercial launch with no desi payload in it.

Since its incorporation in 1992, Antrix has handled third-party satellite launch contracts, leasing of communication satellite transponders, marketing of data from remote sensing satellites, building and marketing of satellites as well as satellite mission support services. For the year ended 2017-18, Antrix had logged a turnover of Rs 2,039 crore and a net profit of Rs 211 crore.

According to a new market intelligence report by BIS Research, the global small satellite market generated a revenue of $513 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2030 as over 17,000 small satellites are expected to be launched. Currently, US private space company Elon Musk-promoted Space X has a hold over the lion's share of the market. Though a big player in Asia, Isro holds less than 2% share in the satellite launch market.

Soon after the launch, Isro chairman K Sivan said the space agency has a busy schedule as it has planned 13 missions before March, including six launch vehicle missions and seven satellite missions. After the successful launch of imaging satellite Cartosat-3 with very powerful resolution and 13 small US satellites, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Isro scientists. "I heartily congratulate the entire @isroteam on yet another successful launch of PSLV-C47 carrying indigenous Cartosat-3 satellite and over a dozen nano satellites of USA. The advanced Cartosat-3 will augment our high resolution imaging capability. ISRO has once again made the nation proud!" he tweeted.

Minister of state for department of space Jitendra Singh said, "Without doubt, Team Isro is making India proud because of their achievements in space science. Under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, developments in space science are being leveraged in improving ease of living in the country."

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