India’s first private launch vehicle all set for maiden flight

India’s first privately developed launch vehicle – Hyderabad-based Skyroot’s Vikram-S – is all set to make its maiden flight from the country’s only spaceport in Sriharikota between November 12 and 16.

Marking the beginning of private sector launches, the mission named ‘Prarambh’ will see Vikram-S carry three customer satellites in a sub-orbital flight.

The final launch date will be decided based on weather conditions. “The Vikram-S rocket is a single-stage sub-orbital launch vehicle which will carry three customer payloads and help test and validate technologies in the Vikram series space launch vehicles,” said Naga Bharath Daka, COO and co-founder of the company.

Sub-orbital flight, just like the ones undertaken by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, are those vehicles which are travelling slower than the orbital velocity – meaning it is fast enough to reach outer space but not fast enough to stay in an orbit around the Earth.

The mission will help the company test its systems in space.

The company is designing three Vikram rockets that will use various solid and cryogenic fuels to carry between 290 kg and 560 kg payloads to sun-synchronous polar orbits. In comparison, India’s workhorse PSLV can carry up to 1,750kg to such an orbit while the newly-developed small satellite launch vehicle – meant for carrying smaller commercial satellites – can carry up to 300 kg to sun-synchronous orbit.

“We could build and get our Vikram-S rocket mission ready in such a short time only because of the invaluable support we received from ISRO and IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre), and the technology talent that we inherently possess. We are proud to announce our path-breaking mission ‘Prarambh’ dedicated to the Indian private space sector, which has hugely benefited from the reforms and vision of the Government of India,” said Pawan Kumar Chandna, CEO and co-founder of Skyroot.

Although Skyroot will be the first private company to launch its rocket, others are not far behind. Take for example Agnikul Cosmos, whose semi-cryogenic Agnilet engine was test- fired for 15 seconds on Tuesday at Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) vertical testing facility at Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), Thiruvananthapuram. ISRO’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles (SSLV) are also likely to be manufactured and operated by private players soon.

As for private satellite missions, ISRO’s heaviest launch vehicle Mark III launched 36 OneWeb satellites (India’s Bharti is a stakeholder). The space agency will be launching another fleet of 36 satellites for the company as well. Other than that, the space agency has also launched at least four satellites made by students.

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