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India launches 7 satellites at one go
Publication Date : 26-02-2013
Successful lift-off sets stage for Mars mission later this year
India yesterday successfully launched seven satellites in a single mission, notching up another success for the country's ambitious space programme, which will see an unmanned mission to Mars later this year.
The 44.4m-tall Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket carrying the seven satellites took off in a plume of smoke from the space centre in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who was watching from a visitors' enclosure, congratulated the scientists following the successful launch. He is the first president to watch a satellite launch live since 2005. "I am delighted to witness the remarkable launch," he said.
There were some tense moments as the launch was delayed by over five minutes to avoid a collision with resident space debris.
India developed the 409kg main satellite, in collaboration with France, to study oceans and animal migration, locate fishing vessels and collect environmental data.
The other, smaller satellites comprised two belonging to Canada, one of which will track asteroids, two owned by Austria and one each by Denmark and Britain.
Experts said the latest launch reaffirmed India's scientific and engineering capabilities.
"It cements India's expertise in the capacity to make new, sophisticated satellite missions," said Pallava Bagla, science editor at New Delhi Television.
"It is an important launch. This is essentially a scientific mission which gives capacity to monitor ocean systems and sea levels. From a climate change perspective, it is very important."
Commenting on the six small satellites, Dr K. Kasturirangan, former chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said they "show also the international character of the mission".
India's space programme dates back to the early 1960s, when it started building its own rockets and satellites to cut dependence on supplies from other countries.
It has since emerged as a major player in the multibillion-dollar space market, sending over 50 satellites into space and earning 10 billion rupees (US$185 million) in 2011, up from 8.8 billion rupees the year before. Also in 2011, Singapore's first locally built satellite was launched by India.
Yesterday, there were celebrations over the success of the rocket launch after a 59-hour countdown. Scientists cheered as the satellites went into orbit 22 minutes after blast-off.
"It's a successful launch," pronounced ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan to loud cheers.
Out of 23 PSLV missions so far, India's space agency has had successful launches in 21, including one in 2008 where it set a record by launching 10 satellites in a single mission.
Last year, it saw major launches including that of a spy satellite capable of keeping a close watch on the country, even during cloudy weather, and its most potent missile yet, the Agni V, with a range of 5,000km, which puts India in an elite group of seven states with such capabilities.
But there have also been some setbacks. In 2010, a communication satellite exploded in mid-air and another failed to launch.
"They went through a bad patch with the failures. The President's presence reinforces the fact that the government has confidence in its scientific community and space research," said Bagla. "All eyes are set on India's maiden mission to Mars."
*US$1=53.8 Indian rupees