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India’s 104-satellite launch sets a record

PSLV launch
India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, sending 104 satellites spaceward. (ISRO Photo)

A record-setting flock of 104 satellites was successfully deployed into orbit overnight after the launch of an Indian rocket. Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries played a part in getting nine of those satellites where they needed to go.

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota at 9:28 a.m. local time today (7:58 p.m. PT Feb. 14).

The mission’s main payload was the Indian Space Research Organization’s Cartosat 2D, a car-sized satellite designed for environmental mapping. Another 88 Dove nanosatellites, each about the size of a toaster oven, will become part of Planet’s Earth-observing constellation.

Eight more nanosatellites were launched for Spire Global, which is filling out a constellation to monitor weather as well as aviation and maritime traffic. This is the second Spire PSLV mission facilitated by Spaceflight Industries, which handles launch logistics.

Spaceflight also arranged to get Israel Aerospace Industries’ BGUSat nanosatellite on the flight. BGUSat is a research spacecraft built by students at Ben Gurion University to perform cloud imaging and measure atmospheric background radiation.

Six more research satellites rounded out the flock, which represented the highest number of satellites launched on a single rocket. ISRO said all 104 satellites were successfully deployed into pole-to-pole orbits within a half-hour after launch.

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India launches BlackSky Pathfinder satellite

PSLV launch
India’s PSLV-C35 rocket rises from its launch pad, carrying eight satellites into space. (Credit: ISRO / Doordharshan via YouTube)

A satellite that’s meant to blaze a trail for Seattle-based BlackSky Global’s Earth-imaging constellation rose into orbit tonight atop India’s four-stage PSLV-C35 rocket.

BlackSky’s Pathfinder 1 was among eight satellites launched from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota at 8:42 p.m. PT Sept. 25 (9:12 a.m. Sept. 26 local time). Over the course of more than two hours, the spacecraft were deployed into two separate sets of orbits.

For India, the star of the show is the 800-pound SCATSAT-1, which will provide data for improved weather forecasting, particularly for tropical cyclones. But for BlackSky Global, a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries, it’s all about Pathfinder 1.

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India’s space shuttle aces first test flight

Image: RLV-TD
India’s RLV-TD prototype rises from its launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center. (Credit: ISRO)

India’s space agency says it put its winged space shuttle prototype, known as the RLV-TD, through a successful first test flight today.

In a congratulatory tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the launch of “India’s first indigenous space shuttle.”

The Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator was designed to validate the uncrewed craft’s autonomous navigation system, guidance and control, thermal protection system and other elements of the mission profile under hypersonic conditions, the Indian Space Research Organization said in a news release.

ISRO said RLV-TD was launched from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota atop an HS9 solid rocket booster and rose to a height of about 40 miles (65 kilometers). Then it glided back down under autonomous control and made a simulated landing into a designated patch of the Bay of Bengal, about 280 miles from Sriharikota.

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‘Death by meteorite’ causes a stir in India

Image: Asteroid entering atmosphere
An artist’s conception shows an asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit: NASA)

Death by meteorite is a common theme in science-fiction movies, but in real life, the chances of being done in by a falling space rock are virtually nil. That’s what makes the reports about the death of Indian bus driver V. Kamaraj in an apparent meteorite strike so remarkable.

Some would argue that the case is unprecedented in modern history – but as usual, that depends on how precisely you define the precedents.

First, the reports: NDTV quotes officials as saying that a blast at Bharathidasan Engineering College, in Natrampalli in India’s Tamil Nadu state, killed Kamaraj and injured three others on Saturday at Bharathidasan Engineering College. A 2-foot-deep crater was left in the ground, and the shock wave shattered windshields and window panes around the site.

At first, the explosion was blamed a “drone-like” flying object or a bomb. But on Sunday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa was quoted as saying that a meteorite caused the blast. About $1,475 (100,000 rupees) in relief was paid out to Kamaraj’s family, and $370 was paid to each of the injured, NDTV quoted the minister as saying.

Authorities said they recovered what appears to be a piece of the meteorite, but found no trace of explosives. Scientists still have to verify that the debris actually came from space.

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