India yesterday successfully put a record 104 satellites into orbit from a single rocket 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 the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that all the satellites had been ejected.
“My hearty congratulations to the ISRO team for this success,” ISRO director Kiran Kumar told those gathered at an observatory to track the progress of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately congratulated the scientists for the successful launch, which smashed 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 and cruised at a speed of 27,000kph, ejecting all the 104 satellites into orbit in about 30 minutes, ISRO said.
The rocket’s main cargo was a 714kg satellite for Earth observation, but it was also loaded with 103 smaller “nano satellites,” weighing a combined 664kg. The smallest weighed only 1.1kg.
Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other nations, including Israel, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and 96 from the US.
About 90 of the satellites were from a San Francisco-based company, Planet Inc, each weighing about 4.5kg.
Only three satellites belonged to India.
It was the PSLV’s 39th successful mission, known as India’s space workhorse. In 2015, it carried 23 satellites into 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.
It is another feather in the cap for ISRO, which sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just US$73 million, compared with NASA’s Maven Mars mission which had a US$671 million price tag.
Experts said 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,” New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses senior fellow Ajay Lele said. “India has been doing these launches successfully and has established itself as a very reliable player.”
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