India has launched 20 satellites - including a Google satellite capable of taking high-definition videos - at one go, in a record for its home- grown space programme.
The satellites, weighing a total of 1,288kg, were launched yesterday morning from the space centre in Andhra Pradesh, in what the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) called a "major landmark mission".
The satellites included an ISRO satellite, two satellites made by students from two academic institutes, and 17 satellites from Canada, Germany, Indonesia and the United States. One of them was an earth imaging satellite by Terra Bella, a Google company.
A rough estimate put the launch at around 30 per cent cheaper than those of other space agencies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "20 satellites in a go! @isro continues to break new barriers."
Said ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar: "With this mission, we have launched the current-generation earth observation satellite along with 17 satellites from foreign countries."
Sent into orbit
Some of the satellites sent up by India:
• The biggest is Cartosat, a 727kg Indian earth observation satellite that takes high-resolution images. It can be used for detailed mapping.
• SkySat Gen2-1, a 110kg earth imaging satellite designed and built by Terra Bella, a Google company.
• Sathyabamasat by Sathyabama University, Chennai. The 1.5kg satellite collects greenhouse-gas data.
• Swayam by College of Engineering in Pune. The 1kg machine aims to provide messaging services to the amateur radio community.
• LAPAN-A3, a 120kg Indonesian microsatellite that monitors land use, natural resources and the environment.
• Berlin Infrared Optical System, a 130kg scientific satellite from the German Aerospace Centre.
• Planet Labs' Dove satellites, comprising 12 machines of 4.7kg each, are designed for earth imaging.
India has over the past five decades built up an indigenous space programme that has become a major competitor in the multibillion-dollar space market.
It has sent up 74 satellites from 20 countries, earning millions of dollars. These include Singapore's first locally built satellite launched in 2011, satellites from Nanyang Technological University in 2014, and six Singapore satellites in December last year. While the space agency has launched multiple foreign satellites before, experts said that the launch of 20 satellites at one go showed the increasing capability of India's space programme.
They also noted that it was significant that US firm Planet Labs, an American earth-imaging private company, and Google's Terra Bella had also chosen ISRO over their own space agency.
Dr K. Kasturirangan, a former ISRO chairman, said: "It is a very big milestone for ISRO that demonstrates its ability to successfully handle a complex mission.
"We have given a signal that we can deal with several nations in a single mission."
India surpassed its earlier record for launching 10 satellites at one go in 2008. Still, the record for the most number of launches rests with Russia, which sent 37 in 2014.
ISRO is now hoping to ramp up its commercial activities, aiming to send 70 more satellites in the next five years and also heavier satellites.
Dr Ajey Lele of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said: "The basic limitation of ISRO's space programme is that it is not in a position to launch heavy satellites, but communication and meteorological satellites are in the four- to six-tonne category."
The Indian space agency is currently able to handle satellites of up to two tonnes, but is aiming to send up satellites weighing 10 tonnes. It is in the process of testing a heavier satellite launcher called the GSLV Mark 3.
ISRO is also building a new rocket-assembling facility to speed up the process of putting together launch vehicles and is planning to send up a micro satellite for weather forecasting and cyclone prediction.