Explained: Why is India paying Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch GSAT-20

Explained: Why is India paying Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch GSAT-20

Over the last 25 years, the government-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), via its commercial arm, has launched more than 430 satellites for foreign customers and earned millions in foreign exchange. ISRO’s PSLV and LVM3 are capable and reliable launch vehicles that have delivered success after success by orbiting satellites of foreign governments, academic institutions, startups and private firms. Then why has the Indian Government now signed a contract with American firm SpaceX to launch its own satellite? Why couldn’t it be done in-house? Read on to know more.

On Wednesday (January 3), the government-run NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), which is ISRO’s commercial arm, had announced that its newest communication satellite GSAT-20 would be flying on American firm’s SpaceX’s Falcon9 rocket. This is the first time that the Indian Government’s satellite would be flying on Elon Musk’s rocket. However, smaller satellites made by Indian private firms and startups have been launched by the Falcon 9.

Built by the Indian Space agency ISRO, the 4.7 ton GSAT-20 craft is a high-capacity communication satellite that is meant to offer broadband services, including In-flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) services. Nestled in an orbit that’s almost 36,000 kms above the earth, GSAT-20’s services would cover the entire Indian mainland and also the Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep archipelagos

According to NSIL, GSAT-20 (renamed as GSAT-N2) is a high-throughput satellite that operates in the Ka-band of the spectrum. It added that bulk of the 48 Gbps capacity on-board the satellite had been secured by Indian service providers. However, the names of these firms have not been revealed.

The NSIL has announced signing of a launch contract with SpaceX. The satellite is expected to be launched in the second quarter of 2024. The satellite is fully owned, operated and funded by NSIL. Presently, NSIL owns and operates 11 communication satellites that are in orbit.

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