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Monday, November 12, 2012

ISRO planning to acquire Ka-Band Communication satellites for India [Space]

The Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO] has sought 'Expression of Interest' [EOI] for construction of communication satellites operating in the Ka-band of the frequency spectrum.

GSLV-Mark-III-Indian-Space-Research-Organisation-ISROThe company, whom ISRO would eventually award the contract to, would be required to build one such satellite initially, with the possible option of a follow-on order to build one more. The manufacturer would be required to supply the satellite within three years from the time of signing the contract. With the 'requirement specifications document' being made available on November 6, responders have time up to December 20 to send in their EOI. Thus, assuming it takes one year to execute the various steps prior to the actual inking of the agreement, the first of these satellites would be placed in orbit sometime in 2016 or beyond.

The satellite, identified as 'ISRO Ka Band High Throughput Communication Satellite', is most likely to be placed at the a Geosynchronous Earth Orbit [GEO] orbit between 48o E to 93.5o E longitudes though they mention the 55o East Longitude as being the more probable location [INSAT-3E, launched in 2003, currently occupies that space]. It is required to have coverage over the entire country, including the southernmost islands of Andaman & Nicobar as well as Lakshadweep as its primary objective. Ideally ISRO would also like the satellite's footprint to extend over South-East Asia, Africa & Middle-East Asia, if possible. It is stated that the satellite would be used to ramp up the broadband internet service capability in the country, thus indicating intent to cater to the increasingly internet-connectivity dependant nature of high-technology industries setting up operations in the country [uplink & downlink speeds of 4 Mbps & 10 Mbps respectively with 50 Gbps throughput, at the very least]. Secondary application that ISRO requires the builder to explore, include its use in DTH television broadcast, though with rain fade effect even more severe than that experienced with the current C & Ku-band transmission, it remains to be seen how serious ISRO is about using this satellite for that purpose.

Transmitting in the Ka-band would bring with it many tangible advantages, notable among them being the ability to transfer much larger amount of data within the available spectrum, along with the need to use smaller receiver sets to pick up its signals. This opens up the possibility of wider applications for the use of satellite-based communication. Some existing international communication satellites capable of utilising the Ka-Band are the ViaSat-1, the EchoStar XVII, HYLAS 2 among others. An interesting requirement that ISRO has specified is for the satellite to have the ability to link-up & operate with up to 8 other ISRO communications satellites orbiting over the Indian Ocean region.



It is unclear whether this call to build the satellite is, in fact, in place of its own effort to build the GSAT-11 satellite. The GSAT-11 had been billed as the 1st Indian communication satellite carrying Ka-Band transponders, for commercial applications, to be launched using the GSLV Mark III. The GSAT-4 [a.k.a GSLV-D3] carried a test Ka-Band transponder. Though, being a much lower weight class satellite, it would be carrying fewer number of Ka-band transponders than these that it is looking to buy. In all likelihood, this acquisition is distinct from its own developmental efforts. ISRO, being the sole agency in the country catering to both the civilian &, to a lesser extent, the military requirement, has often been called out for not keeping up with the increasing communication needs of ISRO-Ka-Band-Communication-Satellite-Coverage-Indiathe country. The problem got further exacerbated with the dual failures of the GSAT-4 & GSAT-5P satellites. This forced the organisation to do a rejig, launching the GSAT-12 satellite in double quick time using a lesser used configuration of its own PSLV system, something it does not normally do for its commercial communication satellites [Arianespace is contracted to carry out the launches]. Currently the organisation has had to take on lease 95 transponders on-board foreign satellites.

Even ISRO's stated aim of launching 14 satellites by 2017 would have put in Space not enough transponders for the country's growing needs [it has no plans to give up their leased transponders even after its own satellites are in orbit]. In this situation, therefore, this decision to buy & operate a satellite not of its own making would make for a prudent step. Adding to the country's capacity through concurrent sourcing & deployment. While this would have ideally meant that the responsibility be taken up by yet another Indian satellite builder, the country has only one such constructor & it itself has issued this call. As a result, it is invariably going to be an internationally-located company that would be selling India the satellites. Companies that could possibly respond, having built similar systems for other customers, would include the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company [EADS], Space Systems/Loral, Avanti Communications, among others.

In the worst case scenario, this move could indicate that its own efforts [GSAT-11] have met with some graver-than-trivial roadblocks, leading to slippage in its programme schedule. Not wanting to pile on the country's transponder woes, thus this decision. However, this last possibility, fortunately, seems to be somewhat of a stretch, given that even as recently as towards the end of October [last month], ISRO's Chairman had stated its goal of launching the GSAT-11 by 2013, & as estimated earlier these satellites, that are being purchased, would be ready for launch only by around 2016.

Although, it is to buy the 6-tonne weight-range satellite, instead of building one on its own [though of a lower weight-class, I-4K Bus being the largest it has] as it is its practise, ISRO has made clear that it would like to have a whole range of access to the satellite as it proceeds through its build,

"ISRO shall get fully involved during the System Engineering, configuration finalization, design, development, fabrication and AIT stages of spacecraft. This means an active interaction and participation of manpower from ISRO during various phases of spacecraft building. The activities like overall configuration finalization, design drivers, system level definitions and configuration ,build plan and process shall be well coordinated , and understood by ISRO team . This may also include some discussions and knowledge sharing on latest technology domains. It is foreseen that a full time participation of a few engineers from ISRO is required during the entire spacecraft realization period. ISRO engineers will be stationed at selected manufacturer’s premises and should have access to ongoing activities. The bidder shall clearly express their approach on the subject and also propose a mechanism for execution of the same."

"The bidder shall provide ISRO with the right to participate in or execute surveys, audits, reviews, source inspection, test observation, mandatory inspections and any other activity during the contract, or have resident or itinerant personnel at the plants of the bidder, Subcontractors, Suppliers and Manufacturers"

The bidder would also be required to supply the upgrade hardware & software for ISRO's ground-stations, along with imparting training to its staff, for handling & operating the satellite through its 15 years [minimum] lifespan.

This path taken by ISRO is a significant departure from its normal practise and, among other things, calls for the need to encourage develop indigenous industrial capability to cater to the requirements. ISRO, from recent announcements, does appear to have taken some steps towards addressing this issue. If pursued on a priority basis, this would pay the country great dividends in the future, adding to the country's technology base, also being favourably positioned to bid for similar contracts being awarded by other countries.


You may read the entire specification document below


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