Take note, space agencies of the world: India just successfully launched 104 satellites into space via a single rocket launch, trouncing the previous record of 37 set by Russia in 2014.
Most of the satellites were foreign-owned – the vast majority of which came from the US Earth-imaging company “Planet” – which makes this launch the country’s attempt to replicate the efforts of rising star private space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The remarkable feat, taking place from Sriharikota space center in southern India, also contained an Indian mapping satellite. Experts think it will be used to keep a high-resolution eye on regional competitors, including China and Pakistan.
The entire launch-and-release sequence took just 18 minutes. As noted by the New York Times, the mission was actually fairly risky, as each tiny satellite was unleashed into space just seconds before and after the release of another. If the timing or astrodynamics calculations were slightly off, they could have collided into each other or bounced back into the rocket itself.
The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi took to Twitter to publicly congratulate the scientists involved in this genuinely breathtaking project.
“Spoke to the Secretary, Department of Space and congratulated him & the entire team of scientists on today's exceptional achievement,” he tweeted. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists.”
The majority (88) of the small satellites belonged to the aforementioned private company out of San Francisco, who hope to sell monitoring data from their constellation – the largest ever released into orbit around Earth – to agencies and governments on demand.
Speaking of which, the huge commercial investment in the launch meant that the Indian government ended up footing just half the bill’s launch, which makes India’s space exploratory efforts a hybrid model between something like NASA and SpaceX, entirely public and private groups, respectively.
This is another proud scientific achievement for the rapidly developing country. Just in 2014, India managed to send a spacecraft to Mars – something rival China failed to do two years earlier.
It’s safe to say that India is becoming nothing short of a major player in the contemporary space race. NASA may be hoping to take a manned crew to Mars by the mid-2030s, but India may not be too far behind such feats in a decade or two.