Reaching for the sky

By NT Bureau Published on Feb 19, 2017 07:55 AM IST

The successful launch of a record-breaking 104 nano satellites into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), all on board a single rocket, is a huge landmark in India's space programme which must be welcomed wholeheartedly. That this country's space scientists compare with the best in the world has been proved time and again but caught as we are in a web of petty politics on partisan lines, we fail to exult collectively as a people in any meaningful way on any strides by the country.

History is being made around us but we still revel in negativism in overall terms. The reality is that the milestone launch, from the Sriharikota space centre in the south, overtook the 2014 Russian record of 37 satellites in a single launch. On board was a 714 kg satellite for earth observation and more than 100 smaller satellites weighing less than 10 kg each. Three were Indian-owned, 96 were from US companies, and the rest belonged to companies based in Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Most were owned by Planet Labs Inc, a US-based Earthimaging company, and offered a fine opportunity to India to make commercial capital of our rare expertise and enterprise.

The feat did not require vastly new technology, but rather reflects the shrinking size and weight of modern satellites. After reaching a height of about 505 km, the satellites will separate from the launch vehicle at different times, angles and velocities to avoid collisions. The precision required in this is mind-boggling.

That India had sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just $ 73 million compared with NASA's Maven Mars mission which had a $ 671 million price tag is in itself worthy of commendation. It is, indeed, happy augury that the business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is growing as phone, Internet and other companies as well as countries seek greater and more hi-tech communications.

The reputation India has built up as a reliable low-cost option in this line will go a long way in getting India orders in the future but there is no room for complacency in a world that is so fiercely competitive. We can neither afford to lower our guard against saboteurs nor loosen our grip over tight pricing. Much of the progressive world is looking up to us and we have new sights to set. And new skies to reach.