The commercial satellite Industry is a huge market for space agencies to obtain contracts and launch satellites into space for generating revenue. In 2021, despite the pandemic, this industry generated $279 billion in revenue (Source: Sia.org). But ISRO only gets a very small percentage of this revenue because most of the satellites are launched by the USA. As much as 87% of the satellites launched in 2021 belong to the United States of America. To increase the contribution to the space economy and generate a higher percentage of revenue, ISRO has developed the SSLV. With SSLV, ISRO plans to improve its launch frequency and increase its market share in this booming satellite industry.
The Small Satellite Launch Vehicle
SSLV aka The Small Satellite Launch Vehicle is a small-lift launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation. It can launch payloads to various orbits. These orbits include Low Earth orbit (for 500 kg satellites) and Sun-synchronous orbit (for 300kg satellites). It also offers the capability to support multiple orbital drop-offs. SSLV is made keeping low cost in mind. It provides launch-on-demand flexibility under minimal infrastructure requirements.
SSLV aims to launch small satellites at a very low price with a higher launch rate. It costs about one-tenth the cost required to launch satellites using PSLV and GSLV. The development cost of SSLV is ₹169.07 crores ($21 million) and the manufacturing cost is expected to be ₹30 crores ($3.8 million).
The projected high launch rate is achieved by relying on largely autonomous launch operations and shorter manpower.
For comparison, assembling and launching a PSLV involves 600 officials while SSLV launch operations can be managed by a small team of about six people. The time to get the SSLV ready for launch is expected to be less than a week instead of months. Another advantage is, that it can be assembled both vertically and horizontally.
The Maiden Flight
The maiden launch of the SSLV took place on 7 August 2022. The flight mission was named SSLV-D1. The rocket had a three-stage configuration with a fourth Velocity Trimming Module (VTM). In its D1 configuration, the rocket has a lift-off mass of 120 tons.
The rocket carried EOS 02, an earth observation satellite that weighed 135kg. It also carried the AzaadiSAT, which weighed 8kg, developed by 750 Indian students. The SSLV-D1 was programmed to place the two satellite payloads in a circular orbit of altitude 356.2km with 37.2° inclination.
Unfortunately, the mission failed to achieve the intended orbit due to system software malfunction. ISRO stated that the mission software logic failed to identify a sensor fault in the final stage. This eventually led to the final stage firing only for 0.1s instead of the intended 20s. This resulted in the failure of the final VTM stage.
The two satellites as well as the VTM stage of the rocket were injected into an unstable elliptical 356km x 76km orbit. The two satellites were deemed useless due to the improper orbit injection by the VTM stage. The failed satellites entered the earth’s atmosphere later on and were destroyed upon reentry.
ISRO also mentioned that they will thoroughly examine the failures. Modifications will be made to system software to prevent improper orbit injection and other minor defects. The next scheduled launch is planned to take place in the 4th quarter of 2022. The flight mission is named SSLV-D2. All the necessary modifications will be implemented in the D2 model. The D2 model is proposed to carry satellites of the American Company, Spaceflight. The payload includes the company’s BlackSky Global – 5,6 along with two others.
In the future, a dedicated launch site for the SSLV launches will be built. It is called “The SSLV Launch Complex” (SLC) near Kulasekharapatnam in Tamil Nadu. It will handle SSLV launches to Sun-synchronous orbit.
After becoming operational, the vehicle’s production and launch operations will be done by groups of Indian firms along with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL). The inclined orbits will launch from Sriharikota while the SLC will handle the Sun-synchronous orbit launches. Steady progress has been made since its development in 2019.
We wish all the very best to the masterminds of ISRO for their future launches. We support them to lead the country’s space program and prove that they are on the path to becoming a space power.
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