Asia Pacific to Lead the Reusable Satellite Launch Vehicle Market’s Charge?

March 2020
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Rocket reusability. The topic that has consumed the minds of geniuses and organizations alike in recent years, so much so that it even made it into an episode of “Young Sheldon”, a TV series focusing on the early life of the famous Dr. Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”. In the episode, a young Sheldon Cooper argues for satellite launch vehicles to be reused after they have been dropped. A tongue in cheek epilogue for the episode then switches to the present and shows Elon Musk reading the young Sheldon’s diaries, in which he has scribbled the detailed engineering plans to make this feat possible. Elon Musk, the owner of SpaceX. The SpaceX that built the Falcon 9 reusable rocket and is currently in the midst of building the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, an entirely reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft. Yeah, that Elon Musk.

While the show uses the subject of reusable satellite launch vehicles as nothing more than a way to convey the magnitude of Sheldon’s precocious talent, it has emerged as a very serious topic in the modern space industry. The bottom line is this: Reusability means fewer expenses. Space exploration efforts over the years have become more complicated, more important, and more frequent, however, the problem of having to build an entire launch vehicle every time a space mission is needed has remained one of the industry’s most cumbersome problems. Let’s take a look at how various agencies are dealing with the problem of rocket reusability.

The Rise and Rise of ISRO: Targeting Reusability

India’s space agency, ISRO, has emerged as a major player in space travel over the last few years with the steady progress of its satellite launch vehicle program. ISRO recently broke the record for the most satellites launched in one space mission and has become a regular conductor of satellite launch missions, especially for small and midsized satellites. These missions have served to elevate India’s standing on the world space exploration map and have emerged as a key avenue for the country to enhance international relations and develop a strong, futuristic agency for monetary as well as technological gains.

In May 2016, ISRO flew the first test flight of its reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator (RLV-TD). The RLV-TD is a scaled-down demonstrator for a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) reusable launch vehicle to be built on the back of the research data gathered from the RLV-TD. The addition of a reusable satellite launch vehicle, along with the recent addition of satellite-busting missiles, has the potential to significantly elevate India’s standing in the global space industry.

China’s Ambitions Know No Bounds

China is another Asian entity making waves with its space program. In May 2018, Chinese plans to develop a reusable first stage for a Long March launch vehicle were revealed. Furthermore, China has extensive plans to make industrial use of the space between the earth and the moon, with solar energy generation plants proposed to be built in the earth-moon space. China already has one of the densest networks of communications and other satellites in space, with the China National Space Administration launching its 300th Long March rocket mission in March 2019. The addition of a reusable satellite launch vehicle could further boost the role China has to play in the global space exploration industry in the coming years.

Apart from India and China, the increasing satellite connectivity activities in other Asia Pacific countries such as Indonesia, Australia, Japan, and South Korea could also benefit the reusable satellite launch vehicle market in the region.

The U.S. also plays a key role in the global reusable satellite launch vehicle market and is, in fact, the global leader in the market as of 2017. The presence of NASA and SpaceX, two of the most influential agencies in the space exploration industry, in the region has been a major driver for the reusable satellite launch vehicle market in North America. Increasing efforts from SpaceX to build the Big Falcon Rocket could prove crucial in the growth of the global reusable satellite launch vehicle market over the forecast period.

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