India is ready to launch its first private sector-built navigation satellite today at 6.59 pm from Sriharikota. The satellite will replace one of NAVIC’s seven satellites that is malfunctioning. The 1425 kg IRNSS – 1H satellite will lift off on the back of PSLV, India’s workhorse that will be on its 41st flight.

The new satellite was built by a consortium led by Alpha Design Technologies, a defence equipment supplier from Bengaluru, over eight months. A team of 70 scientists from space research organization ISRO had supervised the entire process.

The Indian space agency has conducted 150 missions over the last three decades, staring with Aryabhatta in 1975. But with India setting its sight on becoming one of the key suppliers of commercial satellites, it was decided to rope in the private sector. In the future, it is the private sector which is expected to take the lead.

Satellite fabrication requires high precision as these cost hundreds of crores of rupees and after launch remain functional for up ten years with no scope for repair. India has already created a niche in the industry, building and sending to orbit satellites for other nations. The last such expedition was in February, when the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle sent 104 satellites in space; 101 of them belonged to other nations.

India’s own needs are also expanding – the country currently requires 17 satellites a year for a whole range of purposes, including communication, weather prediction and earth observation and military use.

The NAVIC – a system of seven home-made navigational satellites – is currently powering the Swadeshi Global Positioning System. The last of them was launched in April 2016.

But to cover any eventuality, India needed two spare satellites ready for quick launch. That moment came sooner than expected as all three atomic clocks in one of the satellites went out of order in January.