A rocket carrying India's first lunar spacecraft was launched from the country's spaceport here early Wednesday, catapulting the country into the select club that have sent missions to the moon, after the US, former Soviet Union, European Space Agency, China and Japan.
Carrying aloft the lunar orbiter Chandrayaan, the rocket, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C11) lifted off from the second launchpad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here and broke through the scudding cloud cover at 6.22 am, exactly on schedule.
Trailing its characteristic orange plume, the 44-metre-tall 316-tonne PSLV started to move into its designated orbit within minutes, to sling Chandrayaan into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), as scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) cheered at this spaceport off the Andhra Pradesh coast, 80 km north of Chennai.
From the GTO the satellite's onboard liquid apogee motor (LAM) will be fired to take it to the lunar orbit — 387,000 km from earth — around November 8. Once the 1,380-kg Chandrayaan gets near the moon its speed will be reduced to enable the gravity of the moon to capture it into an elliptical orbit.
At the earliest possible opportunity Chandrayaan will drop its Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which will land on the moon's soil carrying India's flag, among many scientific instruments. After that, the spacecraft will also activate its cameras and other instruments on board. Chandrayaan will orbit the moon for two years. It carries 11 experimental payloads.
At liftoff, PSLV C11 weighed 22 tonnes more than earlier PSLV models, as its six strap-on motors were 3.5 metres bigger at 13.5 metre and the rocket carried 12 tonnes of solid propellant as against the usual 9 tonnes.