In a bid to make India an independent satellite-building industry, the first of two replacements or spare navigation satellites assembled in partnership with a private industry consortium, was flagged off from Bengaluru on August 12.
The 1,400-kg IRNSS-1H satellite is due to be deployed in space from Sriharikota this month-end. It will back up the crippled IRNSS-1A, on which all three rubidium atomic clocks have failed.
Until now, public and private sector industries have only supplied satellite parts, hardware or material required by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). With 1H, they are being readied to build satellites too. ISRO, which says it has only half the satellites it needs, has been trying in recent years to quickly make more satellites and now wants to prepare domestic industry to produce them, as also its launch vehicles.
Early last year, ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), which assembles Indian satellites, started one such initiative with two spare navigation (IRNSS or NavIC) satellites. Seven of them, 1A to 1G, are in orbit. Over the last six months, ISAC roped in about 70 personnel from a six-company consortium for assembly, integration and testing. On August 12, the first of the resulting products, 1H, left ISAC for Sriharikota.
ISAC Director M. Annadurai credited about 25% of the realization of 1H to the external team and called it ‘a modest beginning.’ “1H is the eighth NavIC satellite. The industry team was trained and was an active part of mechanical assembly, electrical integration, testing in various modes and thermovac vibration tests.”
ISAC used a separate clean room for the job. The external team watched the integration, and was part of the multiple checks.Dr. Annadurai said the industry team would have bigger responsibilities with the next one, IRNSS-1I, that will soon get into assembly. “I am confident that they can do up to 95% of the tasks, but under our supervision. We will change the ratio of work, hand over all hardware and handhold them through a similar cycle.”
Last December, ISAC signed the two-satellite contract with a consortium of six companies led by Alpha Design Technologies Pvt Ltd, Bengaluru.
About their work on the first satellite, Colonel H.S. Shankar (retd), chairman and MD, Alpha Technologies, said, “It was a fantastic exposure to space-grade work, the priority given to quality and elaborate tests and documentation they do at every stage to eliminate any error.” They would further finetune their work on the second satellite, he said.