BANGALORE, India (AFP) — An Indian rocket launched a record 10 satellites into orbit in a single mission Monday, underlining the nation's emergence as a major competitor in the multi-billion-dollar space market.
The PSLV rocket ejected all the satellites within minutes of each other after liftoff at 9:20 a.m. (0350 GMT) in clear weather from the Sriharikota space station in southern India, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.
"The initial signals indicate normal health of the satellites," the Bangalore-based agency said in a statement posted on its website, www.isro.org.
The mission's success demonstrated India's ability to launch multiple payloads into precise orbit as it seeks to reap commercial benefits from its 45-year-old space programme.
It was the 13th flight of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has "repeatedly proved itself as a reliable and versatile workhorse launch vehicle," said ISRO.
Soaring into clear skies and leaving behind a trail of orange and white smoke, the rocket first put into orbit the 690-kilogram (1,518-pound) remote-sensing Indian satellite, Cartosat-2A.
It also launched an 83-kilogram Indian mini-satellite and a cluster of eight so-called nano-satellites, each weighing between three kilograms and 16 kilograms, built by research institutions from Europe, Canada and Japan.
"The mission was perfect," said ISRO chairman G. Madhavan after the launch was telecast live by public broadcaster Doordarshan.
"It is a historic moment for us because it is the first time that we have launched 10 satellites in a single mission," he added.
The flight broke the previous record of eight satellites launched at one go by a Russian rocket, according to Indian news reports.
ISRO marketing arm Antrix Corporation charged a fee for the launch of the miniature foreign satellites. India has been offering its services at about 60 to 70 percent of the cost charged by other space agencies.
New Delhi wants to compete alongside the United States, Russia, China, the Ukraine and the European Space Agency in offering commercial satellite launch services.
"By launching so many satellites at one go, India has showcased the commercial applicability of its space programme," said Ajay Lele, a space expert at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
"It wants to market its launch systems and also its capability in earth imagery," Lele said. "The mission is very significant from a commercial point of view."
India first staked its case for a share of the commercial launch market by sending an Italian spacecraft into orbit in April last year. In January, it launched an Israeli spy satellite in the face of Iranian protests.
India carried out the first successful launch of a domestic satellite by a home-built rocket in 1980, when it was less preoccupied with reaping commercial benefits and more with harnessing space technology to boost deficient communications and broadcasting facilities.
Cartosat-2A, the main satellite launched Monday to an altitude of 630 kilometres (391 miles) above earth, also has a domestic economic dimension and can be used for intelligence gathering as well, officials say.
More advanced than a predecessor launched in January 2007, it will boost India's efforts to reinforce urban and rural infrastructure to keep pace with economic growth that averaged nearly nine percent in the past four years.
The all-weather satellite, whose camera will beam "very clear and detailed images of even miniscule objects" on earth, will aid economic planners in land and water resources management, said space expert Lele.
Monday's mission precedes the planned launch this year of a lunar mission, which will see India join Asian nations Japan and China in moon exploration.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »