The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) achieved a major milestone last night (Feb. 14) with a successful record-setting launch of 104 satellites on a single rocket.
The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) blasted off from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 10:58 p.m. EST (0358 GMT on Feb. 15) with three satellites from India and 101 smaller nano satellites (also called nanosats) from five other countries: the U.S., the Netherlands, Israel, Kazakhstan and Switzerland. This number crushes the previous record of 37 satellites sent into orbit aboard a single Russian Dnepr rocket in June 2014.
With a combined payload of about 3,040 lbs. (1,380 kilograms), the mission aims to launch the Cartosat-2 series satellite for Earth observation and the other 103 spacecraft into polar sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 314 miles (505 kilometers), ISRO officials said. [India's Record-Breaking Satellite Launch in Photos]
Eighty-eight of the 101 nano satellites that were launched into space belong to the U.S.-based Earth-observing company Planet. Measuring only 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 4 inches high (30 by 10 by 10 centimeters), these tiny satellites, also called Doves, will allow the company to image the entire Earth every day, according to a statement from Planet.
The launch of such a large number of satellites required a specialized release strategy involving three stages. The three larger satellites belonging to India were deployed first "axially along the vehicle," followed by 81 of the nanosats, released in a radial direction away from the vehicle. Finally, the last 20 nanosats successfully separated in a different sequence, ISRO officials said.
All "104 satellites have been very precisely injected into orbit … reiterating the ISRO's capability in handling complex missions," ISRO officials said during the live broadcast following the launch.
India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, also congratulated the ISRO for a successful launch. "This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists," Modi said in a tweet.
This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 15, 2017
Last night's launch marks the 39thflight of the PSLV, which has launched various satellites for historic missions such as India's Mars Orbiter Mission, Space Capsule Recovery Experiment and Chandrayaan-1.