The launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)–D6 powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine is a game-changer. Coupled with a military payload—a satellite, which will enhance secure communications among strategic forces and other key users—the event is critical for many reasons, writes W.P.S. Sidhu, a senior fellow for foreign policy at Brookings India and a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University.
First, this launch validates the new Indian GSLV design and Indian-made cryogenic engine, which was successfully tested in January 2014 and, according to Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officials, proves that this second successful launch was no fluke. Indeed, the growing confidence in the capabilities of this GSLV Mark II version will prove crucial for Isro’s development of the GSLV Mark III version capable of putting satellites up to 5,000kg in geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Second, at an estimated cost of around $36 million per launch, this GSLV is much cheaper than other options that India has used. For instance, the Ariane 5, which was used to launch GSAT-7—India’s first advanced multi-band communication satellite dedicated for military use—costs approximately $60 million per launch. While India will continue to use foreign launch services given Isro’s limited capacity, the GSLV option is clearly more economical.
Third, as a corollary, India is also on the path of becoming a competitive global space actor. It has already become a significant market player in launching satellites between 1,425kg and 1,750kg to geosynchronous and geostationary orbits and sun-synchronous polar orbits respectively through its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Until now, the PSLV has launched over 40 satellites for 19 countries.
GSLV-D6 marks a crucial turning point in India’s credentials as a significant space power and the desire of its military to use space to enhance India’s security. Over the past five years, India launched an average of four-five satellites per year. Over the next few years, this number is expected to go up to an average of seven-eight per year. In recognition of this increasing demand, Isro plans to build a third launch pad and a second vehicle assembly building to enhance launch turnaround.