Mega rocket launches India’s heaviest satellite to date into orbit

India is preparing to use the most powerful rocket in its arsenal to launch the heaviest satellite it has ever attempted to put in orbit.

The launch was seen as part of the country’s plan to improve its prospects of winning a bigger share of the global space industry, which is worth more than $300bn (£232bn), and its hopes of a manned mission.

The 13-storey high rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III, or “Fat Boy”, lifted off from the Sriharikota space centre in southern India at 5.28 pm (11:58 GMT) in clear blue skies.

At 3,136 kg the GSAT-19 satellite is the heaviest India has attempted to put in orbit, the space agency said.

The United States, Russia, China, Japan and European Space Agency have the capability to launch satellites weighing more than three tonnes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists behind the launch and said it took India closer to the next generation of launch capabilities.

“The nation is proud,” he said in a Twitter post.

Modi’s government has been promoting a home-grown space programme as a demonstration of low-cost technology and in February it launched 104 satellites in a single mission, most of them for foreign customers.

The Indian space agency has also considered a manned space missing involving sending astronauts into a low-earth orbit, but the programme has not yet been cleared by the government.

In 2014, scientists first flew the GSLV Mk III and checked the working of an unmanned crew module on the vehicle, suggesting that it would be the launch platform for a manned mission in future.

In May, India launched a communications satellite for its smaller neighbours to share, part of its efforts to build goodwill in the region.

A 2015 Space Foundation report pegged the global space industry at $323bn. India’s share of global launch services industry is about 0.6 per cent, government data shows.

It successfully performed a test flight of a low-cost reusable unmanned space shuttle designed to cost-effectively launch satellites into space last year. 

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