Antrix Wins PlanetIQ Contract, COMSTAC Debates India's Entry Into U.S. Market

Antrix Wins PlanetIQ Contract, COMSTAC Debates India's Entry Into U.S. Market

On Thursday, PlanetIQ announced that it signed a contract with India’s Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), to launch the company’s first two microsatellites in late 2016.  At the same time, the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) is set to discuss Antrix’s plans to compete for U.S. satellite launches.

PlanetIQ is planning a constellation of 18 satellites by 2020 to provide radio occulation (RO) data to feed into numerical weather models on a commercial basis.  This method uses signals from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) like the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) to make measurements of temperature and water vapor in the lower parts of the atmosphere.  Added to data from polar-orbiting weather satellites, better forecasts are enabled.   The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is partnered with the U.S. Air Force and Taiwan on COSMIC (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate), a set of six microsatellites launched in 2006, and is planning COSMIC-2, to obtain such data today.  PlanetIQ says its sensor, Pyxis-RO, “quadruples the data collection capability of existing sensors” because it can track signals from all four GNSS systems in the world — GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo, and China’s Beidou.

The first two PlanetIQ microsatellites, which weigh only 10 kilograms each, will fly on an ISRO PSLV rocket in late 2016, the company said in a press release.  It added that 10 more will be launched in 2017, but did not specify what rocket will be used.  Those 12 microsatellites will create an initial constellation, with six more microsatellites to follow.  Terms of the Antrix contract, such as price, were not disclosed.

COMSTAC will discuss Antrix’s plans to move into the U.S. market during a telecon onThursday.  COMSTAC chairman Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace told today via email that the issue came before COMSTAC in response to a request from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) at COMSTAC’s October 2015 meeting.  USTR wants feedback from the committee on expansion of domestic access to Indian launch vehicles.  COMSTAC’s consideration is not specifically related to PlanetIQ or any other company’s arrangement, Gold added.

The minutes of the October 2015 COMSTAC meeting say that USTR’s Samuel duPont made a presentation to COMSTAC’s International Space Policy Working Group on Antrix’s plans.  “There is concern around whether Antrix will have an unfair advantage over domestic private sector competition, since it is an Indian governmental entity,” as reported in the minutes.

That COMSTAC working group will meet for the first half of Thursday’s telecon, followed by a meeting of the full COMSTAC, to potentially develop findings and/or recommendations.  They also will discuss whether FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation should engage with the European Space Agency (ESA) about potential commercial involvement in ESA’s lunar village concept.

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