World Record By ISRO
Two records for launching satellites have been broken today. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) today sent a record number of satellites into space.
On one rocket, ISRO managed to launch 104 different satellites. This breaks the previous record by a staggering 67. In June 2014, Russia’s Dnepr launcher had managed to send 37 satellites into the orbit.
101 of the 104 Nano satellites launched today are a CubeSat – a small cube shaped satellite weighing approximately 1 kg each. These are sent into orbit alongside a larger primary satellites.
The second world record is created by US earth imaging company Planet Labs, a company that provides an Earth imaging service, as 96 (CubeSat) of these 104 satellites belong to them and one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The PSLV-C37 also carried India’s remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2 and two small spacecrafts.
PSLV-C37 was scheduled to be launched today, February 15, 2017 at 9.28 Hrs IST from Sriharikota
What is a Cube Satellite a.k.a CubeSat
CubeSats are common satellites for Earth observation, so it’s no surprise that Planet Labs are sending so many of them in one launch.
CubeSats are normally the secondary payload in a launch, meaning that the exact details and specifications of the launch are normally dictated by a larger primary payload. This includes the date, time and the orbital trajectory.
“We use affordable, off the shelf but cutting edge components”, says Deanna Doan, Spaceship Captain at Planet. “This allows all of the satellites to be cost and size effective.”
Flock 3p is the name of these 88 satellites, also known as Dove satellites. Last June, the ISRO also sent out Flock 2p which was the name for 12 of Planet Labs Dove satellites.
“This is the fifteenth time Planet is launching Dove satellites”, says Mike Safyan, the Director of Launch and Regulatory Affairs at Planet, adding “It will be our biggest launch to date.”
What Does Planet Labs Hope to Achieve With These Satellites
The end goal for Planet Labs is to eventually be able to obtain images of the Earth every single day. By sending in these 88 new satellites, the resolution of the images they can take will increase dramatically.
“Combined with the 12 satellites of Flock 2p operating in a similar orbit, this launch will enable Planet’s 100 satellite “line scanner” constellation of Doves”. With all these satellites orbiting the planet, Planet hopes to end up with an image of the Earth containing 50 trillion pixels”, says Mike Safyan.
This would mean the image of the Earth would constantly be changing and updating day in and day out. Every seismic movement, tidal change and urban development would constantly be monitored by the satellites.
This gives a huge potential for looking at the cause of specific events rather than just analyzing the aftermath.
“For example in the event of a landslide, you would be able to go back into the archive and find a triggering event instead of just being able to look at the after effects and try to determine when it happened”, says the confident Senior Data Visualisation Engineer, Robert Simmon
Cartosat-2, INS-1A and INS-1B
Of course, seeing as CubeSats are usually the secondary payloads, this means the whole launch was dictated by the primary payload, containing more Earth observation satellites. Cartosat-2, used for cartography in India was launched in 2007.
The fourth Cartosat-2 satellite, which weighs in at 650 kg, is the main reason for this launch.
The two smaller satellites, INS-1A and INS-1B, each weigh around 10 kg and are expected to be functional for a maximum of 12 months. This makes the total weight of the payload around 1,500 kg.
ISRO’s Showpiece Launch May Earn Them Massive Satellite Business
ISRO’s PSLV rockets are extremely reliable and cheap. This means they get a lot of business from abroad. They have already had 36 different launches.
ISRO’s PSLV has launched 79 foreign spacecrafts since September 2015. The current specifications of the rockets with a sun synchronous polar orbit (SSPO) offers a payload of 1,750 kg.
On the other hand, the Geosynchronous and Geostationary (GTO) rockets offer a payload of 1,425 kg. This doesn’t take into account their many other types of rockets either.
This great track record of carrying cargo into space has benefited Antrix, ISRO’s commercial wing. Since 2011, Antrix has made a profit close to 134 billion USD.
Like the Mangalyaan project, today’s launch was truly revolutionary and shows the prowess of ISRO. We expect to see many more wonders in the future coming from ISRO.