There is fresh excitement around the latest mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to be launched on Wednesday, this time over the fact that a record number of 20 satellites are being launched in a single mission. However, that number apart, it is business as usual for ISRO which has achieved a high degree of efficiency with such launches.
To be sure, the number is not entirely insignificant. The maximum number of satellites that ISRO has been able to launch in a single mission so far is ten. This was achieved in June 2008 when it placed those satellites into various low earth orbits. A larger number of satellites is not so much of a technological accomplishment as it is about maximising the economy of the mission. Seventeen of the 20 payloads on the PSLV-C34 mission are commercial satellites from other countries while two are from Indian academic institutions. Each one of these would have bought the slot on the rocket, bringing in revenue for ISRO.
The mission objective, however, is to launch the primary satellite on the rocket, a 727.5 kg satellite on the Cartosat-2 series. As the name suggests, the Cartosat satellites are meant to map the cartographic information of the earth’s surface. The current satellite is similar to Cartosat 2, 2A and 2B that have been launched earlier, ISRO has said. It will be used for similar purposes as well, for urban and rural land management, coastal land use and regulation, utility management like laying of road network or water pipelines, creation of land use maps, precision studies relating to changes in land use, and improving on land information systems, and strengthening of geographical information system (GIS) applications.
The Cartosat will take more than half of the weight of all the payloads put together. The total weight of all the satellites on the rocket is 1,288 kg. The PSLV has carried heavier weights in the past.
Thirteen of the satellites are from USA including the 12 Dove satellites from Planet Labs organisation, each of which weighs just 4.7 kg. There are two Canadian satellites and one each from Germany and Indonesia.
ISRO has so far launched 57 satellites of foreign countries on eighteen different PSLV missions.