Friday, March 24, 2023

    India successfully launches first privately made rocket

    India successfully launched its first privately developed rocket, the Vikram-S, on Friday, a milestone in the country’s effort to create a commercial space industry & to compete on cost.

    The 545-kg rocket, developed by space startup Skyroot, took off from the Indian space agency’s launch site near Chennai & hit a peak altitude of 89.5 kilometers (km).

    The rocket has the capability of reaching Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound – & carrying a payload of 83 kg to an altitude of 100 kilometers, the company said.

    The Skyroot team had set a target of 80 km for its first launch, a benchmark some agencies define as the frontier of space. The Karman line – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere & space – is at 100 km altitude.

    Video footage showed the rocket taking off from the space centre, leaving a plume of smoke & fire in its trail. It splashed down in the Bay of Bengal about 5 minutes after launch, officials said.

    “I’m happy to announce the successful completion of Mission Prarambh, the beginning,” said Pawan Goenka, who chairs the Indian government agency that coordinates private-sector space activities.

    Skyroot, which was started by Pawan Chandana & Bharath Daka, has set a target of cutting development costs by up to 90 percent versus existing platforms to launch small satellites.

    It expects to achieve that cost savings by using a rocket architecture that can be assembled in less than 72 hours with composite materials. It plans launches capable of delivering satellites starting next year.

    “Innovation & cost efficiency should be the two drivers for the industry. Cost efficiency has already been achieved, & now we should look at cutting edge technology,” Chandana said.

    The Indian government has been pushing to develop a private space industry to complement its state-run space programme known for its affordable launches & missions.

    India’s unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost only $74 million, & made headlines for costing less than the Academy Award winnning film “Gravity”.

    Until now, the state-run ISRO has had a monopoly on launching rockets in India.

    The Skyroot rockets are named after Vikram Sarabhai, the Indian physicist & astronomer considered the father of India’s space programme.

    Hyderabad-based Skyroot, founded in 2018 & backed by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, was the first space startup to sign an agreement to use Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launch & test facilities after the government opened the door to private companies in 2020.

    It has raised 5.26 billion rupees ($64.42 million) so far & employs about 200 people. Close to 100 people have been involved in its maiden launch project, the company said.

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