France has chosen an outside launch for a SPOT for the first time

This Sunday, the Indian Space Research Organisation is set to make another mark in its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launcher business when it flies French earth observation satellite SPOT 6.

In the 13 years since the PSLV went commercial, the 720 kg SPOT 6 will be its biggest commercial lift. PROITERES, a 15-kg Japanese observation satellite, will also be put in orbit that day.

For the third time in 21 PSLV (one failed) missions, there will be no Indian satellite on it. In the other two ‘dedicated’ or exclusively-for-client launches, it put in orbit 350 kg Agile in 2007 and Israeli radar spy satellite TECSAR the following year.

Agile has been its biggest lift to date. The other two-dozen foreign commercial satellites were below 300 kg and sent up with a primary domestic satellite.

The cost of a PSLV ride depends on the satellite’s weight and the distance it must reach. It also launched the first Indian lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, in 2008. ISRO officials say it costs about Rs. 90 crore to build the present bare-bones or ‘core alone’ version of the PSLV.

Antrix officials were not available for comments on the PSLV's business prospects.

France has chosen an outside launch for a SPOT for the first time: the previous five SPOT satellites went up on aboard earlier versions of European Ariane rocket.

Although Europe now has the new Vega light lifter in the PSLV class, its reliability is still to be proven after a maiden flight this year.

The SPOT 6 contract came to the ISRO from its maker, Astrium SAS, in September 2008.

In an e-mail, a spokesperson for Astrium said: “We needed to launch SPOT 6 quickly… by mid-2012.” Its low weight needed a small launcher and “the PSLV was the best match; its choice was perfectly in line with the longstanding cooperation between Astrium and Antrix.” The two are partners in the global satellite building market.

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