This piece originally appeared on Livemint.com.
The Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) is all set to launch 104 satellites in one go aboard its trusted rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), on Wednesday—a world record for the most satellites launched in a single mission. Of the 104, 101 are foreign satellites, which will bring revenue to the government agency. Till 2016, Isro had launched 75 foreign satellites, out of a total of 121. Forex revenues of Isro’s commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, rose 204.9% in 2015 (see chart 1) on the strength of foreign satellite launches. In 2015-16, commercial launches brought in Rs 230 crore, which was 4% of Isro’s average spending over the previous three years (see chart 3).
Isro’s low prices are drawing foreign clients. Private space programmes such as Arianespace and SpaceX are yet to equal its cost-effectiveness. Besides, Isro has a 100% success rate in foreign satellite launches. While a satellite launch on Arianespace’s rocket will cost about $100 million after subsidies, SpaceX will charge $60 million. In contrast, Isro charged an average $3 million per satellite between 2013 and 2015 (see chart 2).