Launch of PSLV rocket

Indian space agency launches rocket carrying European satellites

Image credit: Reuters/P. Ravikumar

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched a rocket carrying 31 satellites into space, further marking out the country as a low-cost provider of global space services.

This is the 40th mission of the highly successful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) programme. The 44.4m-tall rocket, PSLV-C38, was fired from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, in the south of India.

The total weight of the satellites was 955kg. The heaviest satellite, the 712kg Cartosat, will observe the Earth for cartographic, urban, rural, coastal and land management, as well as for monitoring water and road networks.

The PSLV also carried 30 lightweight nanosatellites. One of these, NIUSAT, belongs to Nooral Islam University, and will provide images for crop monitoring and disaster management support. The remaining 29 nanosatellites belong to 14 European countries, looking for high-resolution images of Earth.

The satellites will enter sun-sunchronous orbits; they will pass over any given point of the Earth’s surface at the same solar time.

The launch is part of an international commercial project by the ISRO’s commercial arm, the Antrix Corporation, and its international clients. The launch's success could be interpreted as India taking another step towards establishing itself as a provider of affordable space technology.

The Indian government has been supportive of its national space programme, hoping to fulfil an international need for low-cost launches and space technology. Large-scale launches by private space companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX can cost up to $50m per launch.

Other national space programmes, such as those of China and New Zealand, have also been moving towards a focus on inexpensive space technology.

In the past decade, ISRO has celebrated multiple successes, including sending an orbiter into orbit around Mars on the first attempt, and launching enough satellites within single payloads to repeatedly set new world records.

Earlier this year, ISRO launched more than 100 satellites in a single mission, mostly for foreign clients. This month, Indian scientists launched a 3000kg satellite into orbit.

“Our effort of continuing to provide increased Earth observation, navigation as well as communication will continue,” announced ISRO head AK Kiran Kumar in a post-launch speech.

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