The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) just laubched 20 satellites into Earth’s orbit with one rocket launch, making this the largest satellite launch in the space agency’s history. Their earlier record was 10 satellites conveyed with one mission, and this latest achievement takes them a lot closer to the delivery rates of NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency, solidifying India's place in the global space market.
Out of the 20 satellites, 17 were commercial, so used by companies to help us do things like get better TV signals or weather forecasts. The main cargo, though, was the ISRO’s 725.5-kilogram (1,599-pound) Cartosat-2 - a satellite used for earth observation much like NASA’s Landsat program.
"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," ISRO chairman A. S. Kiran Kumar told NDTV.
Pulling off such a launch is no easy task. The satellites, which were launched from the island of Sriharikota, have to be 'injected' into orbit at the correct distance from one another to ensure they don’t eventually smash together.
"After each satellite is injected into orbit, the vehicle will be re-oriented if required and the next satellite will be put into orbit with a varying velocity so that the distance between the satellites grows monotonically," Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre director, K. Sivan, told T.S. Subramanian from The Hindu. "We will do this to ensure that there is no collision of satellites."
"Then, after a huge gap of 3,000 seconds, PS-4 [the fourth stage] will be re-ignited for 5 seconds," Sivan continued. "Then, it will be switched off for another 3,000 seconds. It will be re-ignited for another 5 seconds."
This is really big news for the ISRO for two reasons: it represents both the largest satellite launch in the agency’s history - putting them closer to NASA’s 2013 record of 29 and Russia’s 2014 record of 33 - and it shows that foreign companies are ready to pay the ISRO to launch satellites for them.