This edited rocketcam footage from the C37 PSLV mission is pretty awesome, because it shows all 104 spacecraft making it safely away into their designated orbits. It gives me amazing joy to see all these little spacecraft just being spat out into orbit; it’s amazing this can be done, and flawlessly at that!
India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has become quite the commercial workhorse in the last few years, just obliterated the record for most satellites placed into orbit with a single launch, placing an incredible 104 satellites into orbit. The primary payload was Cartosat 2D, a large environmental mapping satellite. After it was released, two Indian nanosatellites were ejected to test out new sensors. And then came the real marathon — 101 satellites being deployed from 25 Dutch-built “QuadPack” launchers, while the PSLV’s upper stage maintained a very precise and stable orientation as the remaining satellites were ejected two at a time. If that’s not amazing enough, here’s another tidbit for you: the QuadPacks were only added to the launch manifest in the past six months! They’re built by a company called Innovative Solutions in Space, which aims to reduce the time and other barriers to getting a payload into orbit by arranging “rideshare” deals on other spacecraft. This was most definitely the biggest rideshare they’ve arranged so far. Among the 101 were eight Lemur weather nanosats from Spire Global of San Francisco, BGUSat from Ben Gurion University and Israel Aerospace Industries, the experimental Piezo Electric Assisted Smart Satellite Structure (PEASS) from the Netherlands, DIDO from SpacePharma in Switzerland, Al-Farabi 1 from students in Kazakhstan, Nayif 1 from students in the United Arab Emirates, and a whopping 88 Dove satellites for Planet, a San Fransisco satellite imaging company that has been arranging various “flocks” of its Dove satellites. This is by far the largest flock yet.
So, what does a launch of 104 satellites look like? Well, disappointingly, from the ground it looks like any other, since all the interesting stuff happens after its above the atmosphere. But that still means it looks pretty cool. 😉
Two more successful launches this week! First off, yesterday India placed the Resourcesat 2A spacecraft into orbit aboard a PSLV XL rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island. The satellite will fly on a polar orbit (inclination 98.7 degrees) to study resource utilization, soil contamination, water usage, and so forth across the Indian subcontinent.
Then this evening, a rare Delta IV Medium rocket (the “stick” configuration of the Delta IV, seldom used because although it is highly reliable, it is also highly *expensive*) placed the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) 8 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. WGS-8 will serve military customers, providing both targeted and full-disk communications beams in variety of frequency bands. It is the most capable military commsat launched by the USAF, capable of serving multiple bands simultaneously and even switching between them on the fly.
And here’s a rather different perspective on the launch — a deceptively peaceful one, shot by a drone over nearby Cocoa Beach. The audio is from the operator’s cellphone, so mostly records the sound of the ocean waves rolling in. You have to listen carefully to hear the distant warbling roar of the rocket.
Two launches this morning on the other side of the world!
First, in Russia’s remote Amur region in eastern Siberia, their new Vostochny Cosmodrome has beaten the scandals and delays and the many years of debate about where to put it and how to fund it, and has received its first baptism of fire, placing a trio of civilian satellites into orbit aboard a Soyuz 2.1a. The three payloads include Mikhailo Lomonosov, a gamma-ray observatory operated by the Lomonosov Moscow State University; Aist-2D, an earth-observing satellite operated by Samara State Aerospace University, and a CubeSat named SamSat 218 built and operated by Samara State Aerospace University students.
Then, to the southeast of Vostochny, at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, the workhorse PSLV rocket racked up another success by placing the final element of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) into orbit. With this final element in place, the constellation has been officially named “Navic”. IRNSS-1G is not yet in service; like all satellites, it will undergo a period of on-orbit testing before commissioning. Navic is only a seven-element constellation, but as India only aims to supply regional navigation services, this is sufficient. By contrast, systems such as GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo are intended to be used globally.