The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched its most powerful and heaviest rocket yet on Monday (June 5), sending a communications satellite into orbit in a successful debut flight.
Called the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV MkIII), the new rocket lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, at 7:58 a.m. EDT (1158 GMT), successfully delivering the massive GSAT-19 communications satellite into orbit.
"Weighing 3,136 kg at lift-off [6,913 lbs.], GSAT-19 is the heaviest satellite launched from the Indian soil," ISRO officials wrote in a statement.
India's GSLV MkIII rocket is an upgraded version of the country's GSLV rocket. The new version stands 141 feet tall (43 meters) and weighs 705 tons (640 metric tons) at launch liftoff. While it is slightly shorter than its predecessor — the 160-foot (49 m) GSLV Mark II — the new version is 200 tons heavier and can deliver satellites weighing up to 8,818 lbs. (4,000 kilograms) to a geostationary transfer orbit. That's nearly double the lift capacity of its predecessor.
According to India Today, the GSLV MkIII is a heavy-lift rocket that weighs as much as 200 elephants, or five Boeing jumbo jets. It is powered by a liquid-fueled core stage, two strap-on solid rocket motors and a liquid-fueled upper stage.
"This was the first orbital mission of GSLV MkIII which was mainly intended to evaluate the vehicle performance including that of its fully indigenous cryogenic upper stage during the flight," ISRO officials said in a statement.
"It is a historic day," ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said, India Today reported. "Both the GSLV MkIII and the GSAT-19 launch have been successful."
In 2014, ISRO launched an experimental version of the GLSV MkIII to test a prototype of a space capsule built to carry three astronauts into space. That mission was successful, but it was a suborbital test only and not intended to reach orbit.
Monday's GSLV MkIII launch isn't the only big first for India's space program this year. In February, ISRO launched a smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle packed with 104 satellites, setting a new record for the most satellites launched on a single rocket.