Indian Rocket Marks Historic 50th Launch with Spy Satellite

India's workhorse rocket celebrated its 50th flight with a successful launch of 10 satellites, including a spy vehicle.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launched at 3:25 p.m. Indian Standard Time (4:55 a.m. EST or 0955 GMT) on Dec. 11 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on India's east coast, near the Bay of Bengal.

The main payload, a spy satellite called RISAT-2BR1, successfully separated from the rocket and deployed its solar arrays, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The spy satellite is expected to operate for five years, also supporting operations in agriculture, forestry and disaster management. RISAT stands for Radar Imaging Satellite, and this vehicle is the fourth satellite in the series, all built by ISRO.

Related: In Photos: Indian Satellites Soar in the Country's 1st Space Launch of 2019

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle flew its 50th mission, on Dec. 11, 2019. (Image credit: ISRO)

PSLV also deployed another nine commercial satellites into their intended orbits, ISRO added. These satellites were from Israel, Italy, Japan and the U.S. and flew under a commercial agreement with NewSpace India Limited.

Roughly 5,000 spectators attended the historic launch. PSLV first launched in October 1994, according to ISRO. The rocket has three variants that each use four stages to bring payloads into orbit. Some of the variants use up to six strap-on boosters on the first stage to increase the rocket's launching power.

Some of the more famous passengers aboard PSLV include Chandrayaan-1, which flew to the moon in 2008 and helped discover ice water on the surface, and the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM, or Mangalyaan), which launched to the Red Planet successfully in 2013. MOM is still operating, and India plans a follow-up mission, MOM 2, in 2024.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: