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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
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.