DARPA Seeks to Fly Experimental Satellite on Indian PSLV Booster

PSLV C38 mission launches (Credit: ISRO)

Frustrated over delays with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, DARPA is considering launching an innovative experimental satellite on India’s PSLV rocket, SpaceNews reports.

Jeremy Palmer, program manager for DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told attendees at the Milsatcom USA conference that officials are hoping to launch the eXperiment for Cellular Integration Technology (eXCITe) satellite during the second half of fiscal year 2018, i.e., from April to September 2018.

The eXCITe spacecraft consists of 14 small satlets aggregated together into a single payload weighing 155 kg. The satlets, which are supplied by NovaWurks, have autonomous capabilities and are capable of operating individually or being aggregated into larger, more capable satellites.

eXCITe was originally scheduled to fly as a secondary payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. It would have been deployed from a Spaceflight-supplied Sherpa payload dispenser, which aggregates smaller secondary payloads.

However, repeated slips in SpaceX’s launch schedule required Spaceflight to seek alternative rides to space for payloads that would have been deployed by the Sherpa dispenser.

DARPA would need a U.S. government waiver to fly eXCITe on the PSLV. The government has been granting an increasing number of waivers to American satellite manufacturers who say there is a shortage of domestic launch opportunities.

U.S. launch companies have pushed back agains the waivers, saying India’s PSLV and GSLV launchers are subsidized by the nation’s space agency, ISRO. A number of U.S. companies are developing launch vehicles specifically aimed at the small satellite market, but none has yet made a succesful flight to orbit.



  • redneck

    SpaceX is at fault for slipping schedule okay. I tend to look harder at an industry that has allowed an at fault company to do 2/3s of the launches year to date Maybe some competition needs to step up

  • Kenneth_Brown

    The question of whether a company is subsidized by a government or not isn’t relevant. The complaint is the lack of launch opportunities on domestic launchers. SpaceX is way behind due to accidents and ULA doesn’t seem interested in ramping up their production to add capacity. it will be interesting to see if LauncherOne and Stratalaunch will be able to pick up business on the lighter end of the market.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Before SpaceX came along, there was *no* competition in the medium and heavy lift domestic launch market at all – only ULA, effectively.

  • redneck

    True. I was responding to “it’s all SpaceX fault” as posted here. Boeing and Lockheed before ULA should have been reasonable competition at least. Even after ULA they should have been able to eat SpaceX lunch considering heritage and subsidies. It also seems that the subsidies should have given somebody in DARPA the ability to gently remind ULA. Northrup and Orbital also should have had a say in the matter considering their histories preceding the existence of SpaceX.

    Smack SpaceX for overbooking their capabilities. But question also the established players that allowed so many launches to go to them and overseas in the first place.

  • JamesG

    “The question of whether a company is subsidized by a government or not isn’t relevant. The complaint is the lack of launch opportunities on domestic launchers.”

    Actually it is because of the “chicken and egg” problem of the tendency of government to make decisions that pulls the rug out from under private space launch companies. Government and corporations don’t buy rides on start up domestic launchers because there are no domestic launchers to buy rides from.

  • windbourne

    Spacex did not overbook. They were fine iff they did not have accidents. 2 issues set them back. As it is, they are catching up fast now, and will continue to speed up.
    In fact, with 3 pads shortly, and 4 by end of next year, they should easily handle 1/week by end of 2018, if not 2 / week.

  • redneck

    If I get bumped on a schedule, I don’t care what caused it. They booked more than they handled—overbooked. Has nothing to do with intentions or integrity.