India successfully put a record 104 satellites from a single rocket into orbit on Wednesday in the latest triumph for its famously frugal space programme.
The launch means India now holds the record for launching the most satellites in one go, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014.
And it is another feather in the cap for India’s Space Research Organisation (ISRO) which sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just $73 million, compared with NASA’s Maven Mars mission which had a $671 million price tag.
ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.
The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is growing as phone, Internet and other companies, as well as countries, seek greater and more high-tech communications.
Celebrations erupted among scientists at the southern spaceport of Sriharikota as the head of India’s Space Research Organisation announced all the satellites had been ejected as planned.
“My hearty congratulations to the ISRO team for this success,” the agency’s director Kiran Kumar told those gathered in an observatory to track the progress of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists for achieving the feat which smashes a record previously held by Russia.
“They have hit a century in space technology,” Modi said at an election rally in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and 96 from the United States.
Eighty-eight of them are from Planet Inc – a San Francisco-based Earth imagery company – and weigh 4.5 kilogram each.
Only three satellites belonged to India.
Scientists sat transfixed as they watched the progress of the rocket on monitors until the last payload was ejected, and then began punching the air in triumph and hugging each other.
This was PSLV’s 39th successful mission, known as India’s space workhorse.