NEW DELHI: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will rope in private companies or consortium for its mini-PSLV project aimed at tapping the small satellite launch market. ISRO chairman K Sivan told TOI that the first such rocket is likely to be tested by the middle of next year.

The project –– involves assembling a small rocket in three days, at a lower cost. It takes 30 to 40 days to put together a normal PSLV, which is 44 m tall and 2.8 m in diameter. Dr Sivan said, "ISRO will initially build one or two mini rockets. Thereafter, private companies will be given the contract to build them. Antrix (ISRO’s commercial arm) is working on the business model.” The consortium of companies that will be given the task to build the mini rocket may include industry majors like Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Godrej Aerospace.

A PSLV costs around Rs. 150 crore, while a mini-PSLV can be made with one-tenth the money. The rocket will weight one-third that of a normal PSLV which weights 300 tons. The mini version will have a payload capacity of less than 700 kg, compared to a normal PSLV’s capacity to carry more than 1,750 kg to a sun-synchronous polar orbit of 600 km altitude.

India’s satellites in such near-earth orbits are used for earth imaging, weather tracking and reconnaissance. The concept of the mini-rocket came from brainstorming sessions where ISRO scientists felt they need not spend on a normal PSLV when they have to launch smaller satellites, especially when there is a commercial demand for launching small satellites that weigh a few hundred kilos and nano satellites that weigh less than 10kg.

“Such small vehicles will capable of launching multiple nano-satellites,” Sivan said in an earlier interaction with TOI.

So far ISRO has been accommodating foreign satellites in its launch vehicles only as secondary passengers. The demand for smaller satellites and the short turnaround time for the mini-PSLV present ISRO with a commercial opportunity.