On Feb 15, 2017, The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched 104 satellites into orbit from Satish Dhawan Space center, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, India.
The success of the mission relied on its workhorse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launching Vehicle (PSLV). This mission set a new record for the most satellites launched in a single mission, overtaking the previous record of 37 satellites set by Russia in 2014.
The launch was important for ISRO to ensure its position as a reliable and cheaper alternative in the commercial space launch market.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi posted a tweet about the launch.
104 satellites at once
India launched its own Earth observation Castrostat-2 satellite into orbit along with 2 nano-satellites. 96 of the nano-satellites were from the United States, and the remaining 5 were from the Netherlands, Israel, UAE, Kazakhstan, and Switzerland.
ISRO views the launch not as a mission to set a world record but as an opportunity to make full use of the capacity of the rocket.
As there were a large number of satellites to launch, the main concern was to prevent the satellites from colliding on their way to orbit. To overcome this problem, ISRO launched the satellites in opposite directions in pairs, thereby changing the time of separation & separation angle for each pair accordingly.
After a flight of 16 minutes 48 seconds, the 104 satellites were successfully separated in just 12 minutes at the polar Sun Synchronous Orbit of 506km, where it takes approximately 90 minutes to complete one revolution around the planet.
- ISRO is famous for its economical missions, for instance, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyan which launched in November 2013 cost $73 million
- NASA’s MAVEN Mars Orbiter cost $672 million
- It costs an average of $60 million to complete a launch with SpaceX
- The latest 104 satellites launch cost only $15 million
Interesting facts about the mission
- ISRO’s 6 Cartosat satellites are already in orbit, they decided to launched an improved version (Cartosat 2 series). Cartosat satellites are remote sensing satellites use for earth observation.
- 2 demonstration nano-satellites weighing less than 10 kg were also launched from a new class of satellites called INS (ISRO Nano Satellites).
- Out of the 96 US satellites, 88 were Dove (Flock 3P), owned by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based earth imaging company.
- ISRO has launched 180 foreign satellites since 1999 with the US at the top list, sending 114 satellites into orbit so far.
- The total weight of all the satellites launched was only 714kg.
- Pizza Hut offered free pizzas to all ISRO employees across the country.
- Russia held the record of launching 37 satellites in a single mission, in June 2014 using Dnepr rocket.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States launched 29 satellites in Nov 2013 using Orbital Sciences Minotaur 1 rocket.
After the successful launch of the satellites, ISRO is planning to launch more INSs (ISRO Nano Satellites) along with bigger satellites. It plans to launch more small satellites to provide a platform to Indian Universities & Research labs, which ISRO can integrate and coordinate to carry out scientific research activities with them.
Many Indian Universities and Research Labs are already building nano-satellites for their own purposes, the availability of nano-satellites is going to boost space research and technology development in India.