China announces new commercial spacecrafts as India bags deal with Spaceflight

India's PSLV has launched 297 foreign satellites and holds the world record for launching 104 satellites in one go.


China has announced that it will soon be ready to launch commercial satellites into space with the help of new ‘small space rockets’.

The commercial arm of the Chinese space agency, China Rocket, has unveiled three solid-fuel rockets named ‘Smart Dragon’ (SD) and a liquid propellant rocket named Tenglong. They are expected to be ready to launch in the next two years.

SD-1, with a lifting capacity of 200 kg has completed its first flight on 17 August. SD-2 with a 500 kg lifting capacity will fly in 2020 and SD-3, which has a lifting capacity of 1,500 kg, will complete its first flight in 2021. The liquid-propellant rocket, Tenglong is slated to fly in 2021.

China announces new commercial spacecrafts as India bags deal with Spaceflight

The PSLV-C40 mission launching from ISRO's launchpad at Sriharikota. Image credit: ISRO

This will be China’s foray into the industry of commercial satellite launches.

India, on the other hand, has already carved a niche for itself with its commercial arm, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) having got orders from private aerospace companies.

Spaceflight, an American company that dabbles in ridesharing and one of NSIL’s first clients recently announced that they have will be launching 14 more spacecrafts. They are re-using NSIL services and the satellites will be launched on ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) this year. The PSLV is capable of launching satellites in the 1,100-1,600 kg class into the Sun Synchronous Orbit. India has completed 46 missions on the PSLV and these new payloads will be launched anytime between November and December on the C47, C48 and C49 missions.

Spaceflight's customers aboard the launch vehicle will include payloads from Analytical Space, Spire, iQPS and Kleos Space.

The PSLV C48 which is slated for an early December launch will carry Japan’s iQPS SAR microsatellite and four multi-payload Earth observation nanosatellites that add to Spire Global’s constellation of maritime, aviation and weather monitoring satellites.

The PSLV C49 launch also scheduled in December, will take Luxembourg-based Kleos’ Scouting Mission satellites, the foundational system in the company’s radio frequency monitoring constellation, and additional Spire nanosats to orbit.

PSLV's Payload Fairing and Heat Shield. Image courtesy: ISRO

PSLV's Payload Fairing and Heat Shield. Image courtesy: ISRO

Usually, small satellites have to hitch rides on spacecraft that are carrying other, heavier payloads. The bigger cargos get preferential treatment with the smaller cargo fitted into any of the leftover space. With these ridesharing launches, a bunch of smaller satellites are clubbed together and launched into their prefered orbits.

India, with its PSLV, has launched 297 foreign satellites. It also holds the world record for launching 104 satellites in one go.

The PSLV has various variants, which are meant for carrying different-size payloads to different orbits. ISRO has also introduced the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) which is specifically designed to inject small satellites weighing up to 500 kg in low-earth orbits. ISRO has also started using the fourth stage of the rocket for carrying nanosatellite or experimental modules of private parties for experimental purpose. It is safe to say that India has found a market for its services.

However, with the entrance of China’s fleet of satellites, it remains to be seen how this scenario will play out in the future.

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