Bangalore, April 23:
Indiaâ€™s space agency placed an Italian satellite in orbit Monday, bolstering the South Asian nationâ€™s efforts to win a slice of the billion-dollar global launch market.
The India-made Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) put the Agile astronomical satellite into its intended orbit about 550 kilometres above the earth 20 minutes after blast-off.
It was Indiaâ€™s first commercial space mission and the rocketâ€™s 11th flight. â€œItâ€™s a historic moment for the entire space community: an Italian satellite being placed in precise orbit by a totally Indian-built vehicle,â€ Indian Space Research Organisation chief G Madhavan Nair said on state-run TV. â€œWe have proven the reliability of the PSLV, its cost-effectiveness and given on-time delivery,â€ he added from Sriharikota spaceport, 80 kilometres from Chennai in southern India.
Leaving behind a massive trail of orange and white smoke, the rocket blasted off on schedule at 3:30 pm local time (1000 GMT).
â€œIâ€™m really proud to be here today,â€ Giovanni Bignani, the head of the Italian space agency, said on Indian television. â€œThis marks a new era of cooperation between Italy and India,â€ he added, while praising the professionalism of Indian space scientists.
The 352-kilogramme Italian astronomical satellite will be used to gather information about the origins of the universe.
India wants to compete with the United States, Russia, China, the Ukraine and the European Space Agency in offering commercial satellite launch services, a market worth up to $2.5 billion a year.
For Mondayâ€™s launch, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which runs Indiaâ€™s space programme, is charging 11 million dollars, the Press Trust of India has reported. Space agency officials have confirmed the fee is close to that figure.
â€œThe launch itself is a matter of minutes but years of work have gone into it,â€ K R Sridhara Murthi, of the Indian Department of space, said, adding about 1,000 technical personnel had been involved in pre-launch preparations.
India started its space programme in 1963, and has since developed and put its own satellites into space. It has also designed and built launch rockets to reduce its dependence on overseas space agencies but has only recently begun exploring commercial spin-offs.
It carried out the first successful launch of a domestic satellite, which weighed 35 kilogrammes, by a home-built rocket in 1980. The PSLV, which has previously launched eight remote-sensing and one amateur radio satellite, is capable of placing 1,500-kilogramme satellites into orbit. The rocket had been modified to launch the much smaller Agile, together with which it carried a space module to test aviation and electronics systems.