FAA Backs Ban on U.S. Satellite Launches on Indian Rockets

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

Space News reports on disagreements within the U.S. government about whether to allow American companies to launch satellites aboard Indian rockets.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) endorsed an advisory committee’s recommendation that commercial U.S. satellites continue to be barred from using the PSLV.

In its Feb. 26 decision, the FAA said it agreed with its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) that Indian launch services, owned and controlled by the Indian government, threaten to “distort the conditions of competition” in the launch-services market.

The FAA assured COMSTAC that the agency’s opinion would be part of the current review of whether India’s refusal to sign a Commercial Space Launch Agreement (CSLA) on rocket pricing still justifies the ban. The review, led by the U.S. Trade Representative, is the reason COMSTAC had raised the issue….

“There is a real dysfunction on the government side,” said one U.S. industry official whose company wants the government to maintain a no-license bias with respect to the PSLV. “On the one hand, you have the policy, which no agency wants to take responsibility for but which remains the policy. On the other, government agencies are practically falling over themselves to grant waivers.”

“Falling over themselves” may be an exaggeration, but as Ambassador Verma noted, several commercial U.S. satellite owners and at least one non-U.S. company – Airbus Defence and Space, whose Spot 6 and Spot 7 commercial Earth observation satellites have U.S. components – have succeeded in launching on the PSLV after obtaining waivers.

Meanwhile, India is generating increased revenues from launching foreign spacecraft.

India’s PSLV rocket launched 28 non-Indian satellites between 2013 and 2015, generating 80.6 million euros ($101 million) in commercial launch fees, mainly on the strength of three missions carrying foreign satellites as the main payloads, the Indian prime minister’s office said.

In a March 3 response to parliamentary questions, Jitendra Singh, a minister of state in the prime minister’s office whose responsibilities include India’s Department of Space, listed the 28 satellites and the revenue generated from their launches.

Antrix Corporation Ltd., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, negotiates commercial launch agreements on behalf of the Indian government.

Most of the satellites were small, with a launch mass ranging from a few kilograms to around 100 kilograms. These were launched as secondary payloads riding alongside an Indian satellite that financed most of the launch cost.

But three launches were dedicated commercial launches in which non-Indian satellites were the only payloads.

PSLV is India’s smallest and most reliable booster.