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Modern space race: India launches milestone mission

Posted September 28

Monday 9:12 AM IST, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C35) launched eight satellites into different orbits (credit: European Space Agency)

The country most often brought up in the modern space race is China. While the recent launch of Tiangong-2 is an accomplishment, it is essentially a lesser version of the Soviet Union’s Salyut 1 space station that was put into orbit more than 45 years ago.

The country which is making advancements in leaps and bounds is India.

India shook up the space industry three years ago with when their first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission, successfully reached Mars on the first attempt. This is even more impressive when considering the 42 percent success rate in a given mission reaching Mars among all space agencies.

India made history again on Monday when a PSLV rocket left the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, with eight satellites. The PSLV-C35 launch included the SCATSAT-1 meteorology satellite, three satellites for the Algerian government, two for universities in India, Pathfinder-1, a high-resolution imaging satellite for Seattle-based BlackSky Global, and a Canadian nano satellite which aims to help to reduce space debris.

While placing eight satellites into orbit from a single launch is impressive, it’s far from the record. Russia sent up 37 satellites in 2014, bettering NASA’s 29-satellite record the previous year.

Monday's launch is unique because it placed these satellites into two different orbits. This was achieved by releasing the seven secondary payloads, restarting the upper stage, then boosting the SCATSAT-1 into a higher orbit

U.S.-based launch vehicle providers have similar technical capabilities but have not yet used them in this way.

SpaceX demonstrated restart of the second-stage Merlin engine during a 2015 launch of a satellite for Orbcomm.

The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engine restarts following a coast period in nearly every launch of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicles.


Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.

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