U.S. Trade Representative Reviewing Indian Access to Launch Market

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is reviewing a 10-year old policy that has largely kept U.S.-built satellites from being launched aboard Indian launch vehicles.

Last week, USTR official Samuel duPont made a presentation about the review to a working group of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). Growing demand by American satellite makers for commercial launch services is the reason behind the review.

Mark Sundahl, chairman of COMSTAC’s International Space Policy Working Group, said duPont told the group that one of the main concerns is whether government-owned Indian launch services will operate as commercial entities with respect to launch prices charged. If there is increased competition, USTR wants it to take place on a level playing field.

Launches are conducted by the government-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). During the presentation, DuPont sought input from COMSTAC members regarding any experience they had working with ISRO and how the space agency operates with regard to launch services.

ISRO has three launch vehicles: the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for small payloads; the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark I and Mark II for medium payloads; and the GSLV Mark III, a larger rocket now under development.

PSLV1,750 kg SSO/1,425 kg GTO3129111993
GSLV Mk. I & II2,500 kg GTO/5,000 kg LEO9
 GSLV Mk. III4,000 GTO kg/8,000 kg LEO1 (Suborbital)1 2014

PSLV has proven to be the most reliable Indian launch vehicle; it could serve the growing U.S. small satellite market. A successful PSLV launch in September carried four U.S. CubeSats, marking the first time American satellites had been carried on an Indian launch vehicle.

The GSLV Mk. I and II has had a mixed record, with as many failures as successes. The launch vehicle comes in two variants depending upon the payloads being carried on it.

Despite its mixed record, ISRO has declared the GSLV operational after 14 years of development based on back-to-back successes in 2014 and 2015. Those flights featured successful uses of a domestically produced cryogenic upper stage, which Indian engineers spent about two decades developing. ISRO previously used a limited supply of Russian-made upper stages. ISRO is now marketing GSLV launch services internationally.

The larger GSLV Mk. III had a successful suborbital flight test in December 204. The next flight is scheduled to be an orbital test using a cryogenic upper stage. The flight test is set for December 2016.