India has successfully launched a rocket carrying a record 20 satellites, as its space agency looks to grab a larger slice of the lucrative commercial space market, agencies report. The rocket carries the highest ever number of satellites on a single Indian mission and the third highest in history.
It blasted off on Wednesday from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota, carrying satellites from the US, Germany, Canada and Indonesia. Most of the satellites will enter orbit to observe and measure the Earth’s atmosphere, while one of them aims to provide service for amateur radio operators.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known to be highly ambitious about the country’s space research programme, described the launch as “a monumental accomplishment” for the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar told the national NDTV news network: “Each of these small objects that you are putting into space will carry out their own activity, which is independent of the other, and each of them will live a wonderful life for a finite period.” .
Frugal space programme
The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is globally growing as phone, Internet and other companies, as well as countries, seek greater and more high-tech communications. In 2008, India launched 10 satellites on one rocket, setting a world record that has since been broken by the United States and then Russia.
Pallava Bagla, a science editor with the privately run Indian TV channel NDTV, told Al Jazeera that it was significant feat and symbolised why big tech companies were flocking to for India. “It’s like dropping off, one by one, school children from a bus travelling at high velocity” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s a tricky maneuver because you don’t want the mothership and the ‘babies’ to collide with each other.”
“India offers launch costs that are fifty percent cheaper than the rest of the world, so if Space X, Arianespace or NASA can do it at $100, India is willing to do it at $50,” he added. India is competing with other international players for a greater share of the commercial launch market, and is known for its low-cost space programme.
In 2013, the ISRO sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars at a cost of just $73m, compared with American space agency NASA’s Maven Mars mission that had a $671m price tag. The successful mission was a source of immense pride in India, which beat rival China in becoming the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet.
In May, the ISRO launched a rocket carrying an experimental spacecraft it hopes will mark an important step towards the country’s first re-usable space shuttle.