Asian space race intensifies as India sets satellite launch record
The Asian space race is heating up as India and China vie for leadership.
India successfully launched 104 satellites in a single mission on Wednesday, setting what its space agency claims is a new world record for launching the most satellites at one go.
Of the 104 satellites sent up this week, 101 are foreign satellites to serve international customers as the South Asian nation seeks a bigger share of the $300bn (€281bn) global space industry.
"This is a great moment for each and every one of us. Today we have created history," said project director B Jayakumar.
The Indian Space Research Organisation said the nano satellites - those weighing less than 10kg (22lbs) - were sent into orbit from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, southern India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations on the launch conducted by the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that went off smoothly and was carried live on national TV news channels.
"This remarkable feat by ISRO is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation," he said.
"India salutes our scientists."
Modi is bullish on India's space program and has repeatedly praised the efforts of scientists who three years ago pulled off a low-cost mission to send a probe to orbit Mars that succeeded at the first attempt.
ISRO's low prices attracted international customers to launch 75 satellites last year from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
The launch of PSLV-C37 in a single payload, including the Cartosat-2 series and 103 co-passenger satellites, together weighed over 650 kg (1,433 lb)
Out of 101 nano satellites, 96 were from the United States and one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
India wants to become a player in the multibillion-dollar space launch market, and has successfully placed light satellites into orbit in recent years. It hopes to eventually send astronauts into space.
In September 2014, India successfully guided a spacecraft into orbit around Mars.
Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency had been able to previously do that.
Unlike India, China has sent astronauts into space - the first in 2003.
It launched its sixth manned space mission last October and plans a permanent space station by 2022.
Those points were pointedly raised in Chinese state media coverage of India's latest success this week, a sign the old US/Russia space race rivalry may have a successor in Asia.
On Tuesday, China said it plans to launch its first cargo spacecraft in April, taking a step toward its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station.
Plans for the maiden voyage of the cargo spacecraft were reported on the front page of 'the People's Daily', the official Communist Party newspaper.
The Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be carried into space by a Long March-7 Y2 rocket launched from Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in south China's island province of Hainan, the daily reported, citing the China Manned Space Agency. (Reuters)