Makings, markings are there for TN turning into a global space sector hub

A combination of factors — existing and emerging supply chain, entry of private rocket and satellite makers, an upcoming space port on the coast — is all set to make Tamil Nadu a global space sector hub, said industry experts.

According to them, all the makings and markings are there to make it happen provided nothing contrary is done.

City based space sector startups like Agnikul Cosmos, GalaxEye Space Solutions and defence/aerospace electronics company Data Patterns (India) Ltd are into making small rockets, satellites and related systems.

Already Tamil Nadu is well known as a global hub for automobile production. There exists a vibrant auto ancillary eco system which is already being leveraged by rocket maker Agnikul.

“We source off-the-shelf products of auto component vendors. Electronic boards, parts, sensors and others that are used in automobiles can also be used in the rockets with tweaking,” Srinath Ravichandran, Co-Founder, Agnikul told IANS.

Agnikul is planning for a commercial launch sometime this year and serious talks are on with a couple of satellite companies.

“The eco system — fabrication, mechanical products, knowledge base — are available in Chennai and Tamil Nadu. Chennai is all set to be the hot spot for space,” Srinivasagopalan Rangarajan, CMD, Data Patterns, told IANS.

The Chennai based Data Patterns, a defence and aerospace electronics company has supplied the cable harness health checkout systems for Gaganyaan — India’s human space mission — crew module.

The health checks of wiring harnesses such as high voltage insulation, continuity, isolation, current carrying capacity and other electrical parameters play a vital role in the safety of the crew module.

Data Patterns with its long association with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has supplied the 14,000 point count down checkout system for the second launch pad, upgraded the launch vehicle tracking radars and supplied the X-Band and C-Band weather radars.

The company that designs and manufactures radars, underwater electronics/communications/ other systems, electronic warfare suite, small satellites and others.

Rangarajan said, Data Patterns will also work with the consortium of space sector companies promoted by Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) so that an end-to-end solution — satellite making — launching it into orbit-and satellite data analysis is available within the consortium.

“Good number of components for making satellites are made in Tamil Nadu. We source some components and design some components ourselves. When we scale up, lead time for sourcing gains importance,” Pranit Mehta, Vice President, Business Development, GalaxEye told IANS.

Though not on very large-scale, industrial units in Chennai, Coimbatore and other places in Tamil Nadu have been supplying components for Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) for the past several years, said Padma Bhushan Ramanujam Varatharaja Perumal, formerDirector at the ISRO and now consulting couple of space sector players.

The Indian space agency has its ISRO Propulsion Complex in Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district for realising propulsion technology products.

Echoing him G.Shankar, Director, Business Development, Metallic Bellows told IANS: “Many companies in Tamil Nadu are supplying items to ISRO and there is an existing supplier base. We supply bellows for ISRO rockets like Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).”

According to Perumal, the greater boost for the space ecosystem in Tamil Nadu came with India’s engineering giant Larsen and Toubro(L&T) deciding to make space sector related items in Coimbatore.

Similarly, textile machinery major Lakshmi Machine Works Ltd (LMW) headquartered in Coimbatore has its Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) making components for aerospace players including ISRO, Perumal said.

The LMW also has an aerospace composites facility there for making composite structural products.

The Chennai based MIL Industries Ltd making corrosion and abrasion resistant linings also supplies to ISRO, Perumal said.

“Everything that is needed for making solid fuel fired rocket engines — chemicals, fabrication facilities — are available within Tamil Nadu. Only few countries make solid fuel fired engines and India is one of them,” S.R.Chakravarthy, Professor and Head-Combustion R&D Centre, National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD), IITM told IANS.

Chakravarthy, who guides Agnikul and GalaxEye added, the Sivakasi headquartered firecracker industry facing issues like pollution, Chinese competition can look at making solid fuel engines.

But how can making rockets and satellites make Tamil Nadu a global space sector hub?

The answer to this lies in Kulasekarapattinam in Tuticorin district and the global space sector trend.

The Indian space agency ISRO is building its second rocket port at Kulasekarapattinam where from small rockets laden with small satellites can be launched.

The ISRO is also in the process of realising its small rocket with a 500kg carrying capacity to be launched from Kulasekarapattinam rocket port.

Former Director of ISRO M.Annadurai told IANS: “The trend of launching constellation of small satellites, the entry of small rockets — from ISRO and private players — coupled with the rocket port in Kulasekarapattinam, Tamil Nadu can become a global space sector hub.”

Additionally, through the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) ISRO has taken initiative to showcase the non-space faring nations its space capabilities and also provide training to make small satellites. Those nations are interested in remote sensing satellites for their needs. There is a strong possibility of the first set of satellites being made and launched into orbit by India.

Further the defence corridor and increased drone manufacturing and usage will beef up the ecosystem for making small satellites in Tamil Nadu, Annadurai added.

“The second rocket port at Kulasekarapattinam will surely give a fillip for the space sector. Rocket integration systems could be set up there, N.Shekar, Former MD, Continental Data Graphics and Past President of Aerospace Industry Development Association of Tamil Nadu (AIDAT) told IANS.

Indian private and government rocket companies can offer cost effective launch services as Kulasekarapattinam is an ideal location for putting a satellite into polar orbit since it is located on the east coast and near the equator.

Major space faring nations have multiple rocket launch sites.

India presently has one rocket port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh with two launch pads. And ISRO has only been launching small foreign satellites for a long time.

If things are planned properly, India can become the global satellite launch hub, remarked IITM’s Chakravarthy.

For boosting the sector, the state government should set up a working group and discuss the issues with the industry players, Agnikul Ravichandran added.

According to Rakesh Sasibhushan, Chairman, CII National Committee on Space, there is potential for Tamil Nadu to become a space-hub provided satellite and sub-system manufacturing is incentivised and given specific impetus, so as to pool the availability of resources and to save on costly and time consuming transport of space systems.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached atv.jagannathan@ians.in)

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