India has successfully launched a rocket carrying a record 20 satellites, as its space agency looks to grab a larger slice of the lucrative commercial space market.
The rocket carries the highest ever number of satellites on a single Indian mission and the third highest in history.
It blasted off on Wednesday from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota, carrying satellites from the US, Germany, Canada and Indonesia.
Most of the satellites will enter orbit to observe and measure the Earth’s atmosphere, while one of them aims to provide service for amateur radio operators.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known to be highly ambitious about the country’s space research programme, described the launch as “a monumental accomplishment” for the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
ISRO chairman A.S Kiran Kumar told the national NDTV news network: “Each of these small objects that you are putting into space will carry out their own activity, which is independent of the other, and each of them will live a wonderful life for a finite period.” .
Frugal space programme
The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is globally growing as phone, Internet and other companies as well as countries seek greater and more high-tech communications.
In 2008, India launched 10 satellites on one rocket, setting a world record that has since been broken by the US and then Russia.
Indian space shuttle makes first test flight
Russia still holds the record with 37 satellites.
India is competing with other international players for a greater share of the commercial launch market, and is known for its low-cost space programme.
In 2013, the ISRO sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars at a cost of just $73 million, compared with American space agency NASA’s Maven Mars mission that had a $671 million price tag.
The successful mission was a source of immense pride in India, which beat rival China in becoming the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet.
In May, the ISRO launched a rocket carrying an experimental spacecraft it hopes will mark an important step towards the country’s first re-usable space shuttle.