India launched its first space observatory, Astrosat, from the country’s main space centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on Monday, becoming a member of the select group of space organisations to have a lookout in orbit after the US, Japan, Russia and Europe.
The satellite was zoomed into space by a PSLV C-30 rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 10am. Six customer satellites, one (micro) each from Canada and Indonesia, and four nano satellites from the US also rode along.
“The mission envisages an earth-orbiting scientific satellite with payloads capable of simultaneously observing the universe in the visible, ultraviolet and x-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said an Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) official.
The satellite launch comes just a year after Isro’s first interplanetary mission, Mangalyaan, entered the orbit of Mars and on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to meet President Barack Obama during his US trip. The mission will also be the first time the country will launch US satellites.
The successful launch of India’s Mars orbiter last year came just days before Modi travelled to the US on his first trip after a landslide electoral victory.
The multi-wavelength mini Hubble-type space observatory, with an estimated cost of about Rs 180 crore and weighing 1,513 kg, will study distant stars, white dwarfs and pulsars. In particular, it will train its instruments at the massive black hole believed to exist at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.
The Hubble launched by the US in 1990 is 10 times heavier than the Astrosat and is said to cost $2.5 billion. While the Hubble space telescope is still operational, India’s space observatory’s life span is five years.
Astrosat was launched into a 650km orbit carrying four X-ray payloads, one UV telescope and a charge particle monitor. Two of the payloads are in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and University of Leicester, UK.
The 44.4 metre-tall polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-XL) version is a four-stage rocket with six strap-on motors for additional thrust during the initial phase of the flight. The first and third stages are powered by solid fuel while the second and fourth stages are powered by liquid fuel which will be filled during the countdown.
The rocket with seven satellites cumulatively weighing 1,631 kg blasted off from the first launch pad of the rocket port.
This is the third time that an Indian rocket launched seven satellites in a single mission. In 2008, Isro had launched 10 satellites in one go, including India’s Cartosate-2A satellite.
Just over 22 minutes into the flight, the rocket will eject Astrosat. Soon after, six other satellites will be put into orbit and the whole mission will come to an end in just over 25 minutes.
The Indonesian 76 kg Lapan-A2 is a micro-satellite from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, meant for providing maritime surveillance using automatic identification system (AIS), supporting Indonesian radio amateur communities for disaster mitigation and carrying out earth surveillance using video and digital camera.
The 14 kg NLS-14 (Ev9) of Space Flight Laboratory, University of Toronto Institute for Advanced Studies, is also a maritime monitoring Canadian nano satellite using the next generation AIS.
The remaining four LEMUR nano satellites from Spire Global Inc, San Francisco, US, are non-visual remote sensing satellites, focusing primarily on global maritime intelligence through vessel tracking via AIS and high-fidelity weather forecasting using GPS radio occultation technology, the ISRO said.
Apart from Isro, four other Indian institutions - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and Raman Research Institute - were involved in the payload development.
(With agency inputs)