Sriharikota, India | AFP |
India successfully put a record 104 satellites from a single rocket into orbit on Wednesday in the latest triumph for its famously frugal space agency.
Scientists who were at the launch in the southern spaceport of Sriharikota burst into applause as the head of India’s Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced all the satellites had been ejected.
“My hearty congratulations to the ISRO team for this success,” the agency’s director Kiran Kumar told those gathered in an observatory to track the progress of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately congratulated the scientists for the successful launch which smashes a record previously held by Russia.
“This remarkable feat … is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists,” Modi wrote on Twitter.
The rocket took off at 9:28am (0358 GMT) and cruised at a speed of 27,000 kilometres (16,777) per hour, ejecting all the 104 satellites into orbit in around 30 minutes, according to ISRO.
The rocket’s main cargo was a 714 kilogram satellite for Earth observation but it was also loaded with 103 smaller “nano satellites”, weighing a combined 664 kilograms. The smallest weighed only 1.1 kilogram.
Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and 96 from the United States.
Around 90 of the satellites are from a San Francisco-based company, Planet Inc. each weighing around 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) that will send Earth images from space.
Only three satellites belonged to India.
– World record –
Scientists sat transfixed as they watched the progress of the rocket on monitors at Sriharikota until the last payload was ejected, and then began punching the air in triumph and hugging each other.
This was PSLV’s 39th succesful mission, known as India’s space workhorse. In 2015, it carried 23 satellites to the space.
The launch means India now holds the record for launching the most satellites in one go, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014.
And it is another feather in the cap for ISRO which sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just $73 million, compared with NASA’s Maven Mars mission which had a $671 million price tag.
ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.
The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is growing as phone, Internet and other companies, as well as countries, seek greater and more high-tech communications.
India is competing with other international players for a greater share of that launch market, and is known for its low-cost space programme.
Experts say much of the credit for India’s burgeoning reputation rests with its successful launch of the Mars orbiter, which gave it an edge over its rivals in the space race.
“India is proving to be a very viable option because of the cost and the reliability factor,” said Ajay Lele, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
“India has been doing these launches successfully and has established itself as a very reliable player.”
Last June, India set a national record after it successfully launched a rocket carrying 20 satellites, including 13 from the US.
Modi has often hailed India’s budget space technology, quipping in 2014 that a rocket that launched four foreign satellites into orbit had cost less to make than Hollywood film “Gravity”.