East Meets West in Space: ISRO and SpaceX Team Up for GSAT-20 Launch in 2024

In a significant development in the space industry, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has announced plans to launch the GSAT-20 satellite aboard SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket. This launch is scheduled for the second quarter of 2024 and marks a crucial step in India’s space sector.

The GSAT-20, also known as GSAT-N2, is a high-throughput Ka-band satellite. It is designed to offer a robust capacity of nearly 48 Gbps, aiming to enhance connectivity across India, including remote and underserved regions such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands. The satellite weighs approximately 4,700 kg, showcasing NSIL’s capability to manage significant payloads.

This mission is part of the broader space sector reforms initiated by the Indian government in June 2020. Under these reforms, NSIL has been mandated to build, launch, own, and operate satellites in a demand-driven mode to meet the specific service needs of users. The GSAT-20 satellite mission follows the successful launch of GSAT-24 in June 2022, NSIL’s first demand-driven satellite mission, which was also fully funded and operated by NSIL.

The decision to launch with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 indicates a shift in NSIL’s approach, considering the increasing mass of its spacecraft and the constraints of its own launch vehicles. Historically, India has launched its largest satellites using foreign rockets, primarily Arianespace’s Ariane rockets. However, with the retirement of Ariane 5 and the delayed launch of Ariane 6, SpaceX emerged as a feasible alternative, reflecting its growing dominance in the global launch market.

This mission is notable for being the first Indian communications satellite in more than three decades to be launched on an American rocket. Earlier, India had relied on its own vehicles and the Ariane family of rockets for its communications satellites.

The collaboration between NSIL and SpaceX, leveraging the Falcon 9’s capabilities as the world’s first orbital class reusable rocket, underscores a significant milestone in the global space industry. It highlights the increasing demand for reliable and cost-effective space access, a domain where SpaceX has established a formidable presence.

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