Tim Furniss/LONDON

India entered the commercial satellite launch market on 26 May, when a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was fired from Sriharikota. It carried an Indian 1,050kg (2,300lb) Oceansat 1 monitoring satellite and two sub-satellite payloads from South Korea and Germany into a 727km (450 mile) polar earth orbit. It also marked the first launch by India of three satellites on one flight.

This was the fifth flight of the four-stage PSLV rocket, designed to carry a payload of up to 1,200kg into an 817km polar sun-synchronous orbit, but the first carrying foreign commercial satellites.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials say that the PSLV performed with copybook precision. ISRO officials hope to use the PSLV to offer commercial launches at prices 20-30% cheaper than those of competitors. With a lift-off weight of 294t, the PSLV has alternate solid and liquid stages, including a 139t first stage, one of the largest solid boosters in the world.

The launch of the 107kg South Korean Kitsat 3 and the 45kg German Tubsat minisatellite payloads were paid for by customers. The launch price has not been revealed. "We're willing to consider future launches from India," says the Korean Satellite Technology Research Centre.

India has been exporting spacecraft components, hardware and satellite imagery since 1992, but this triple launch marks ISRO's entry into commercial satellite launches. "This success will give us more confidence for the future," says a senior official of Antrix, the commercial wing of ISRO. A Belgian 100kg PROBA microsatellite is scheduled to be carried as an auxiliary payload on a future PSLV flight.

Last year, Arianespace and ISRO signed a deal to evolve a common launch vehicle-satellite interface so that small satellites can be launched either on Ariane or the PSLV. India also hopes to launch its first experimental Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, carrying a 2500kg satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit within the next year.

India's entry into the commercial space business has reached another milestone, with the agreement to lease 11 transponders on its Insat 2E satellite to Intelsat, which will pay $10 million a year for 10 years.

Source: Flight International