ISRO To Use Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 Rocket To Launch Satellite For The First Time

India and Elon Musk have been growing closer over the years through Tesla and Starlink, but yet another one of Musk’s ventures will now collaborate with the Indian government in sending a satellite to space.

ISRO will use SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to send its latest communication satellite, the GSAT-20, to space. ISRO’s current flagship rocket, the LMV3, has a maximum carrying capacity of 4000 kg, but the GSAT-20 weighs in at 4,700 kg. As such, the GSAT-20 will be launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sometime in the second quarter of 2024. Thus far, ISRO had been relying on European space company Arianespace’s Ariane rockets for satellite launches exceeding 4,000 kg.

This is the first time that ISRO and SpaceX will be collaborating for a satellite launch. In the past, however, private Indian companies have sent their satellites into space using SpaceX rockets — in 2022, Bengaluru-based Pixxel had launched its first satellite using the same Falcon 9 rocket, and in 2023, Bengaluru-based Digantara had launched a satellite aboard SpaceX’s Transporter 6 mission.

ISRO’s GSAT-20 is a telecommunications satellite, and will provide cost-effective Ka-Ka band High Throughput satellite (HTS) services. These services primarily target broadband connectivity, as well as IFMC and cellular backhaul service needs, catering particularly to remote and unconnected regions.

The bulk of the HTS capacity onboard GSAT-20 has already been secured by Indian service providers, although specific customer names remain undisclosed. This satellite boasts 32 beams offering Pan-India coverage, extending its reach even to remote territories such as Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands.

This collaboration between ISRO and Elon Musk is yet another sign of India’s strengthening relations with Musk’s sprawling business empire. Musk’s satellite-based internet service Starlink has already applied for a license to operate in India, and recent court judgements have also paved the way for its entry into the country. Meanwhile, Tesla might soon be manufacturing on Indian shores, with rumours that a plant could be announced in Gujarat as soon as later this month at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. And with ISRO and SpaceX now collaborating for the first time on a satellite launch, India’s relations with the world’s richest man seem to be deeper than ever.