Planet Labs Inc. an US-based integrated aerospace and data analytics company, said today that four of it’s satellites will be launched with India’s PSLV C-40 mission scheduled to fly in January 2018. The primary payload for the mission is Indian Space Research Organisation’s Cartosat-2 series satellite and planet’s four satellite will be as secondary payloads.
In February 2017, Planet’s 88 satellites travelled on PSLV-C37 as part of ISRO’s record-breaking launch of 104 satellites.
Planet labs had to secure a special waiver from the US government to launch 88 satellites through Indian Space and Research Organisation because of a policy that discourages American companies from using Indian launch services.
While economics is playing a major role in it as it is driving the American companies to India but politics has prevented them from doing so in the past.The policy is a legacy of time when India was blacklisted by the United States after the 1998 nuclear test in Pokhran and the American companies were banned from doing business with Indian firms.
As part of the export control policy, a list of 200 entities including agencies of ISRO was drawn up and US companies were barred from doing anything with them.
When India launched 104 satellites at a time, there were 101 foreign satellites and of which 96 were from America. ISRO had launched 40 satellites by 2014 but none of them from America.
However, in the phase of last two years, the US has emerged as the Indian agency’s top customer.Talking about Planet Labs , it was formed in the year 2010 by a former NASA scientist. The company chose to launch it’s satellites through ISRO and has launched about 100 nano satellites till date.The company launches tech demo satellites several times a year to ensure they are using the latest and advanced technology.These advancements are then incorporated into future operational fleet.
The company operates a fleet of Earth-imaging satellites, collecting a massive amount of information about the planet.
The foremost reason behind this success is that the Indian space agency is able to send the satellites a much cheaper rate as compared to American companies like SpaceX.
Ajay Lele, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis said,”Rocket scientists in India come at a cheap rate.Once the design is finalised, it is only a question of nuts and bolts and making it”.
Considering the point made by Ajay Lele it is very clear that ISRO can do cost-effective launching.In the past decade, American companies had been looking for cost-effective launch services pushed hard for a review of the policy.Ties between India and US improved significantly since the early 2000s and many sanctions were lifted with the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008.
However, there has been some export policies with regard to the commercial launching which has not been removed and is in place now.According to this policy if an American company launches in India then they must apply for a waiver which approved on a case to case basis.
The attractiveness of ISRO for American companies will be short-lived, trade groups in the US hope as their domestic industry matures and become competitive.But it is still doubtful that they will match ISRO’s cost-effectiveness.
Today, there is a long line of countries that want to work with ISRO and there is no need of Americans until and unless they are willing to work with us.