SRIHARIKOTA: Shortly after 9 am, India successfully launched a rocket which deposited a record 20 satellites in 26 minutes proof that the country’s famously frugal space agency, ISRO, is headed for a larger slice of the lucrative commercial space market.
The rocket blasted off from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, carrying satellites mainly for international customers including the US, Germany and a Google-owned company.
It was the most satellites India has put in space at one go, though Russia set the record of 37 for a single launch in 2014.
Most of the satellites will enter orbit to observe and measure the Earth’s atmosphere, while another aims to provide service for amateur radio operators.
“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,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman A.S Kiran Kumar told NDTV, who described this morning’s exercise as “a job well done.”
The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is growing as a phone, the 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.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the 20-satellite record as a “monumental accomplishment”, tweeting that “our space programme has time and again shown the transformative potential of science & technology in people’s lives.”
Last month India successfully launched its first mini space shuttle as it joined the global race to make reusable rockets.
The shuttle was reportedly developed on a budget of just one billion rupees ($14 million), a fraction of the billions of dollars spent by other nations’ space programmes.
India in 2013 sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars at a cost of just $73 million, compared with NASA’s Maven Mars mission which had a $671 million price tag.