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India’s moon landing boosts prestige at home and abroad

A robotic Indian lander set down safely on the moon today, setting off a wave of pride that reached from Mission Control in Bengaluru to Seattle’s tech community.

“India is now on the moon,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said over a video link moments after the landing at 6:03 p.m. Indian Standard Time (5:33 a.m. PT). He went on to say that “this success belongs to all humanity.”

A roomful of mission controllers in Bengaluru cheered when the landing was confirmed at the end of a six-week-long space odyssey. “This will remain the most memorable and happiest moment for all of us,” said Kalpana Kalahasti, associate project director for the Chandrayaan-3 mission at the Indian Space Research Organization.

Today’s touchdown added India to an exclusive club of moon-landing nations that also includes the U.S., Russia and China. India’s Vikram lander is the first robotic probe to visit the moon’s south polar region, which is thought to be prime territory for human exploration and settlement.

Soon after the landing, Vikram sent back an image showing its surroundings — including one of the lander’s legs and its shadow.

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India loses its moon lander at mission’s climax

Indian officials
Kailasavadivoo Sivan. the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, briefs Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the status of the Chandrayaan 2 mission. (ISRO via YouTube)

India’s Mission Control lost contact with the lander for its Chandrayaan 2 mission today, just as it was about to make a touchdown near the moon’s south pole.

Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram lander descended to a highland plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, at a latitude of 70.9 degrees south. But contact was lost in the final moments of the descent.

During the minutes that followed, worried-looking mission managers huddled with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was at Satish Dhawan Space Center for the landing. Then Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, took the microphone at Mission Control.

“Vikram lander’s descent was as planned, and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 kilometers,” he said. “Subsequently, the communication from the lander to ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed.”

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Spaceflight will get first crack at India’s next rocket

PSLV rocket
India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle will be smaller than its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, shown here on its launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center. (ISRO Photo)

Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s purchased the first commercial launch of India’s next-generation Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, or SSLV, and has already committed all of the available payload space to a U.S.-based satellite constellation customer.

The deal, announced today in conjunction with the annual SmallSat conference in Logan, Utah, builds on Spaceflight’s existing relationship with the Indian Space Research Organization and India-based commercial ventures.

ISRO developed the SSLV with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) to mid-inclination low Earth orbit, or LEO, and 300 kilograms (660 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit. That’s more suited for launching small satellites than India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, which can put 1,100 to 1,600 kilograms (2,425 to 3,500 pounds) into sun-synchronous orbit and has served as a go-to rocket for Spaceflight.

The SSLV launch was purchased from New Space India Limited, or NSIL, and is due for liftoff from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center later this year.

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India sends probe toward moon landing

India GSLV rocket launch
India’s GSLV Mk III rocket lifts off, sending the Chandrayaan 2 probe on a trip to the moon. (ISRO Photo)

India began a slow but steady space odyssey to the moon’s south polar region today with the launch of its Chandrayaan 2 mission.

The lunar landing, set for Sept. 6-7, would make India the fourth nation to set a probe safely down on the moon’s surface, after Russia, the United States and China.

If all goes according to plan, the mission’s Vikram lander and Pragyan rover would gather the first on-the-ground scientific data from a region that NASA is targeting for a crewed landing in 2024.

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Indian rocket puts 29 satellites in orbit

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India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. (ISRO Photo)

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle has put a military satellite and 28 secondary payloads into orbit, with Seattle-based Spaceflight and other commercial ventures playing supporting roles.

The PSLV C45 mission lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at 9:27 a.m. local time April 1 (8:27 p.m. PT March 31). The primary payload was India’s Electro-Magnetic Intelligence Satellite, or EMISAT, which is reportedly designed to intercept radar transmissions for military intelligence purposes.

“This will certainly add to our capabilities, but getting into specifics is not good for us,” Sateesh Reddy, who heads India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, told The Times of India.

The launch came just days after India demonstrated its anti-satellite capability by firing a ground-based missile to down one of its own satellites in low Earth orbit

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Images stream in from a new crop of satellites

Beijing as seen by SkySat
A satellite image of Beijing, captured by one of Planet’s SkySat spacecraft, shows the Chinese capital’s futuristic high-speed rail station toward the left edge of the frame. (Planet Photo)

More than 100 payloads have been put into orbit over the past couple of weeks, including 64 satellites riding a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and 31 satellites that were launched by an Indian PSLV rocket.

Some of those satellites are already beaming back pictures of our planet. For example, Planet has shared images from both of the SkySat high-resolution imaging satellites that served as the lead payloads for Seattle-based Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare launch on the Falcon 9. That mission, known as the SmallSat Express or SSO-A, lifted off on Dec. 3 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

One of the pictures features the Beijing South Railway Station, a futuristic-looking, clamshell-like terminal that serves as the Chinese capital’s stopping point for high-speed trains from Tianjin and Shanghai. The other image focuses on the Capibaribe River running through the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife.

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India launches BlackSky satellite (and 30 others)

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India’s PSLV rocket lifts off to send 31 satellites into orbit. (ISRO Video)

The first Earth observation satellite for Seattle-based BlackSky’s Global constellation has been sent into orbit aboard an Indian rocket.

Global-1 was just one of 30 secondary payloads for the PSLV-C43 mission, launched at 9:57 a.m. local time Nov. 29 (8:27 p.m. PT Nov. 28) from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota. All those satellites went into a sun-synchronous, nearly pole-to-pole orbit at an altitude of 504 kilometers (313 miles).

The primary payload aboard the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle was India’s Hyper Spectral Imaging Satellite, or HySIS, which is designed to capture Earth imagery in visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared wavelengths from a height of 636 kilometers (395 miles). Potential applications range from weather and climate research to agriculture monitoring and water management.

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RBC Signals turns to India for space networking

Indian antenna
Vikram Sarabhai Space Center’s 18-meter antenna, located near Bangalore, India, can be used for deep-space communications. (VSSC Photo)

Seattle-based RBC Signals has forged an agreement with Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, to widen its spectrum of communication services for spacecraft operators.

The partnership adds C-band, Ku-band and Ka-band communication capabilities to RBC Signals’ existing resources in the VHF, UHF, S, C and X radio bands. It also extends the company’s potential reach beyond Earth orbit to the moon and deep space.

The pact marks another first for the three-year-old startup. “It represents our first partnership with a national program,” RBC Signals co-founder and CEO Christopher Richins told GeekWire.

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FCC stings Swarm for unauthorized satellite launch

PSLV launch
India’s PSLV rocket lifts off in January, carrying controversial satellites into orbit. (ISRO Photo)

A stealthy California startup called Swarm Technologies is facing the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission after its super-miniaturized satellites were launched without proper authorization.

The flap was first reported March 9 by IEEE Spectrum.

It all started when Swarm Technologies developed a breed of networked communications satellites known as SpaceBEEs (Basic Electronic Elements). The satellites were unusually small: about 4 inches square and 1 inch thick, or roughly the size of a sandwich.

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Dozens of satellites due for January liftoff in India

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India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off on a February space mission. (ISRO Photo)

Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources’ technology demonstrator satellite for asteroid prospecting is due for launch in early January, along with more than two dozen other satellites, aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The latest word on the schedule for the PSLV-C40 mission came today from Seattle-based Spaceflight, which is providing launch and mission services for Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-6 and 10 other satellites.

Arkyd-6 is only about the size of an inkjet printer, but it’s designed to capture images in midwave infrared wavelengths and send them back to Earth. The imaging technology is destined to be used in future generations of Planetary Resources’ asteroid-surveying spacecraft.

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