India has successfully squeezed a seventh launch into the year, using an upgraded version of the country's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle to place a massive communications satellite into orbit for the Indian Air Force today (Dec. 19).
That communications satellite, called the GSAT-7A, weighs nearly 5,000 lbs. (2250 kilograms) and will allow the Indian Air Force to manage all of its space communications itself, rather than paying for satellite services, according to reporting by The Times of India.
"This mission, both in the launch vehicle as well as the satellite, there are so many firsts," K. Sivan, chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told Spaceflight Now.
The vehicle blasted off from India's spaceport, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, at 4:10 p.m. local time (5:40 a.m. EST, 1040 GMT), and the satellite deployed about 19 minutes into flight. Over the next few days, the ISRO will nudge the satellite into its final orbit, according to a statement from the Indian space agency.
The satellite is designed to last eight years in orbit and is India's second military-communication satellite. The country is in the process of establishing an agency to unite space assets across all branches of the military.
Today's launch used a bulked-up version of India's rocket, which adds an extra engine to the second stage of the rocket. The rocket also currently carries an Indian-designed cryogenic third stage, which took its seventh flight today.
Today's was India's last scheduled launch for 2018, although the country is eyeing two launches in January 2019, including of its second moon mission, Chandrayaan 2.
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Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.