The sky is the limit goes the idiom. But for the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), space is the limit. On Wednesday, the organisation successfully launched into orbit 20 satellites, creating a record in the process.
The launch was significant for it shows Isro’s prowess in space programmes and yet again showcases India as a destination for cost-effective satellite launch missions.
Of the 20 satellites carried by the PSLV C-34 rocket, India’s 725.5 kgs Cartosat-2 Earth observation satellite was the main payload. The other 19 consisted of two from educational institutions in India, 13 from the US, two from Canada and one each from German and Indonesia.
Twenty satellites is a big number but the record for launching the most number of satellites in a single launch is with Russia, which launched 37 satellites on its Dnepr rocket in 2014 .
Foreign satellite launches are crucial for Isro because the market is projected to run into billions of dollars by 2017. At the moment India sits on the margins because it has only the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which is primarily for low-weight satellites. The combined weight of the 20 satellites on Wednesday’s launch was about 1,288 kg. Isro’s focus should be on GeoSynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLVs), which can launch heavier satellites in the range of 5,000 kg. For cost-effective successful launches, Isro needs to further perfect the cryogenic engine technology. Once that is achieved, India can compete with world leaders like the US or Europe.
Since the 1990s India has launched close to 80 satellites, of which more than 50 are foreign ones. If about 20 countries have signed up for launching from India (including the US), it is because launches here are close to 60% cheaper than in other countries . As India shifts from PSLVs to GSLVs with indigenous cryogenic engines — signs are that we will get there soon — Isro will move into the prestigious club of heavy lifters. In that sense, Wednesday’s launch is a sign that India’s space programme is on the right trajectory.