DARPA considers using PSLV rocket for less important missions

SpaceX suffers for a delay with their launch schedule since disaster of Falcon-9 with CRS-7 Dragon cargo spacecraft on 28 June 2015. Another failure on launch pad on 1 September 2016 also not helped in keeping the schedule. It should not be surprising that some potential Customers begun to consider another propositions from different launch service providers.

One of such Customers is DARPA, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) . It is an agency operating under U.S. Department of Defense and responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. Until now Agency was sending their experiments to space inside rockets contracted for DOD like ULA Atlas V. Due the increased number of experiments focused on space technologies, DARPA begun to be interested in contracting delivering its payload to space for another Company. It was obvious, that one of the potential contractors would be SpaceX; Company was awarded with contract to deliver to orbit EXCITE experiment (eXperiment for Cellular Integration Technologies) as secondary payload in late 2015. Fatal end of the first half of that year marked with failure of CRS-7 mission forced SpaceX to postpone EXCITE launch to 2016. Disaster on 1 September 2016 caused another delay and DARPA started to consider to launch EXCITE on the top of the rocket provided by another Company.

On June 29, 2017, Jeremy Palmer, program manager for DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, officially confirmed that DARPA is seriously considering to contract launching EXCITE on the top of the Indian PSLV rocket operated by ISRO, Indian Space Research Organisation with planned launch date for early fiscal year 2018. It would be another sign that American space industry is not able to provide enough launch vehicle to meet demand of both public and private sectors. To remind until now Atlas V rocket is still powered by Russian rocket engines and American astronauts are flying to ISS inside Russian Soyuz spacecrafts. If DARPA will be forced to launch their experiment inside PSLV it could be beginning of discussion on U.S. government’s ban for launching American satellites on the top of the rockets not made by American Companies. This could in fact cause serious problems for SpaceX, which still bases on contracts with private companies and which could have problems with lowering price to stay competitive with launch service providers like ISRO offering much lower price per kilogram of payload.