S Somanath, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said at the seventh ‘Bengaluru Space Expo 2022’ that India plans to design and build a new reusable rocket for the global market because this would significantly reduce the cost of launching satellites, news agency PTI reported. He said that “all of us want launches to be much cheaper than what we do today”.
Somanath also said that at present, it takes about USD 10,000 to USD 15,000 (INR 7,98,000 to INR 11,97,000) to put a kilogram of payload into orbit.
He told reporters that the cost needs to be brought down to USD 5,000 (INR 3,99,000) or even USD 1,000 (INR 79,800) per kilogram, and that the only way to do that is to make the rocket reusable. The ISRO Chief added that currently in India, there is no reusable technology yet in launch vehicles or rockets.
Somanath stated that the idea is that the next rocket India is going to build after GSLV Mk III should be a reusable rocket.
He further said that the Indian space agency has been working on various technologies, including the one demonstrated with Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (IAD) last week. The ISRO Chief explained that India will need to have a retropropulsion system to land the rocket back on Earth.
IAD is a gamechanger with multiple applications for future space applications such as recovery of the spent stages of a rocket, building space habitat during future human spaceflight missions, and for landing payloads on Venus or Mars. On September 3, 2022, the ISRO successfully tested an IAD designed and developed by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Kerala. The IAD was launched atop a Rohini sounding rocket from Thumba.
Retropropulsion is a technique to safely decelerate a space probe during re-entry into a planet’s atmosphere.
The goal of ISRO is to combine these technologies to design and build a new reusable rocket. The rocket will be launched in partnership with industry, startups, and the Indian space agency’s commercial arm, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL).
Somanath said this is the idea India is working on, and that it cannot be ISRO’s idea alone, but has to be an industry’s idea. Therefore, he said, ISRO will have to work with the industry to design, engineer, manufacture and launch a new reusable rocket as a commercial product, and operate it in a commercial manner.
Somanath said it is a “big shift” from what ISRO does today. He added that he would like to see this proposal taking shape in the next few months. The ISRO Chief further said that the Indian space agency would like to see a rocket that will be competitive, cost-conscious, and production-friendly.
Somanath said the rocket will be built in India, but operated globally for the services of the space sector. He added that this should happen in the next few years so that ISRO can retire all the operating launch vehicles in India at appropriate time.