Rocket policy must not be limited by capital, liability: Startups

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Chennai, Sep 16 (IANS) The proposed launch vehicle or rocket policy should be startup friendly, not be restrictive in terms of minimum capital for the company, rocket size and other things and the criteria be clear and upfront, said top officials of two rocket companies.

They also said the private rocket makers are start-ups which the proposed policy should take into account and the damage liability is one of our major concerns.

“It is a welcome move on the part of the government to have a policy for satellite launch vehicles or rockets. However, the proposed policy should be start-up friendly as all the private rocket makers are start-ups,” Pawan Kumar Chandana, Co-Founder, CEO and CTO of Skyroot Aerospace told IANS.

On Tuesday, K. Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space (DOS) announced that the government will come out with new policies for launch vehicles, space exploration and also a comprehensive Space Act.

“The proposed policy should be start-up friendly and not restrictive in terms of minimum capital requirements for rocket makers. That apart, the policy should also lay down the norms for sharing of damage liability between the private rocket makers and the government,” Chandana said.

“The launch licensing guidelines should be clear. The criteria to allow companies to launch rockets should be explicit. Similarly, the guidance on the end user of the satellite should also be clear so that the companies are not put to difficulty later,” Srinath Ravichandran, co-founder and CEO Agnikul Cosmos Pvt Ltd told IANS.

The other issues faced by the rocket launch companies are the damage to properties orbiting in space and located on the ground.

“The damage to third party properties – orbiting in the space or on the ground- by a rocket built and owned by a start-up can break the companies in the nascent sector if they have to bear the liability in full,” Chandana said.

He wants part of the liability to be shared by the government at least in a graded manner – based on the turnover or number of launches or other manner.

“The liability norms should also be such that there is a level playing field for all including Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO),” Chandana said.

“Though there is no clarity on the space liability insurance, the premium should also not be high. On the other hand, the insurance for property damage on the ground could be like that of the aviation insurance,” he added.

According to Chandana, ISRO normally formulates policies for established corporates laying down turnover norms. But this time around the policies should take into account the needs of start-ups.

On the status of Skyroot’s rocket Vikram Chandana said in six months’ time, two stages/engines will be tested.

“Ours is a four stage rocket with the first three stages powered by solid fuel and the fourth one by liquid fuel. The fourth stage engine has already been tested. The navigation systems are developed inhouse,” he said.

The 20-metre rocket with a carrying capacity of about 300 kg is being built with composites and carbon fibre to make it lighter.

“We are using metal matrix composites in our liquid engine and carbon fire in our solid motors,” he said.

On the other hand, Agnikul is hopeful of signing a satellite launch contract in 2021 and the debut launch of its rocket ‘Agnibaan’ is planned for 2022.

On the status of the Agnibaan rocket, Ravichandran recently told IANS that the upper stage engine has been realised and work is on for realising the first stage engine, which is bigger in size to give the necessary thrust during the initial stages of the rocket’s flight.

All the engines of Agnibaan will be fired by semi-cryogenic fuel or simply put pure kerosene. The rocket height will be 18 metres and it would weigh about 14 tons at lift off and has a carrying capacity of 100 kg to low earth orbit (LEO), Ravichandran said.

According to Ravichandran, the global micro, nano and small satellite (satellites weighing 1kg to 150kg) launch market is estimated to be about $2-$3 billion per year.

About 500 satellites are being launched across the world and the carrying rate is about $40,000 per kg for low earth orbit.

Presently, small satellites are carried as piggyback luggage by bigger rockets. Thus, the waiting time for small satellite makers to put their satellites into orbit is very long.

While small rocket players may face competition from agencies having bigger rockets in terms of pricing, Ravichandran said the satellite players will have to look at the opportunity cost of waiting for space in a bigger rocket whereas it may not be so with players like Agnikul.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

–IANS

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