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ISRO sets record, launches 104 sats at one go

Wednesday, 15 February 2017
M Balasubramani

Sriharikota: A day after Valentine's Day, the love story of ISRO and successful launches continued today with the PSLV-C37 screeching past the clear sky in the morning for the first launch of the year with a record payload of 104 satellites.

Today marked the 39th launch of the reliable workhorse of ISRO and it was all the more special as the new record was created with 104 satellites put in orbit in a single mission from the first launch pad at 9.28 am.

The main passenger in the PSLV-C37 was the 714 kg Catrosat-2 series earth observation satellite and 103 co-passenger satellites together weighing about 664 kg. 

The 44.4 m tall PSLV-C37, with a lift off mass of 320 tonnes, was the 16th flight of PSLV in 'XL' configuration, with the use of solid strap-on motors. The co-passenger satellites comprise 101 nano satellites, one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 96 from the United States of America, as well as two nano satellites (INS - 1A and INS- 1B) from India. 

The total weight of all the satellites carried onboard PSLV-C37 would be about 1,378 kg. 

About 28 minutes after lift-off, the satellites were injected into a 505-km polar sun synchronous orbit (SSO). About 17 minutes after lift-off, the Cartosat-2 series satellite, with a mission life of five years, got separated from the launch vehicle and injected into a 505-km circular polar SSO, followed by the separation of the INS-1A and INS-1B.

In the next 10 minutes, the remaining 101 satellites were separated and injected into the orbit in different directions in the same orbit. The separation angle and time of separation was such that one satellite would not collide with another, ISRO sources said. 

The satellite separated from the launch vehicle would have a relative velocity of one metre per second. 

After 1,000 seconds, the distance between a satellite and the rocket would be 1,000 metres. "The satellite that gets launched first will move at a relatively faster velocity than the next satellite that is launched. Due to different relative velocities, the distance between the satellites increases continuously, but the orbit will be the same," the sources said.

Launching multiple satellites is not new to ISRO as earlier, last year, they created a record by launching 20 satellites in a single mission using the PSLV. In 2008, ISRO launched 10 satellites in a single mission. Russia's Dnper launcher has the record for lifting 37 satellites to orbit in June 2014 after NASA launched 29 satellites in one go in 2013.

A single US earth imaging company, Planet, has made an eye-popping bulk booking for 88 of its small ‘cubesats’. The 88 cubesats were part of Planet’s earth observation constellation of 100 satellites. They weigh around 5 kg each and are called ‘Doves’ or Flock 3p.  For California-based Planet, too, it will be the record largest number of cubesats to be flown in a single mission. 

Planet, formed in 2010 by former NASA scientists, has chosen the PSLV rocket for the second time. It got its earlier set of 12 ‘Doves’ launched in June last year.

The 101 International customer nano satellites were being launched as part of the commercial arrangements between ISRO's commercial arm, the Antrix Corporation Limited (Antrix), and international customers.


The Cartosat-2 series satellite, the primary satellite carried by PSLV-C37, would be similar to the earlier four satellites of the Cartosat-2 series.

"After its injection into a 505-km Polar SSO, the satellite will be brought to operational configuration following which it will begin providing regular remote sensing services using its panchromatic and multispectral cameras," ISRO said.

The ISRO nano satellites INS-1A and 1B were versatile and modular nano satellite bus system envisioned for future science and experimental payloads.

The INS system was developed as a co-passenger satellite to accompany bigger satellites on PSLV.

The primary objectives of INS system are to design and develop a low-cost modular nano satellite in the weight range of 10 kg capable of carrying payloads up to a weight of 5 kg, provide an opportunity for ISRO technology demonstration payloads, provide a standard bus for launch on demand services, provide an opportunity to carry innovative payloads for universities and R and D labs. 

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