For the record: India launches 104 satellites all at once

Several decades of thrift and perseverance are paying off for the country's space agency.

People watch as India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) carrying 104 satellites in a single mission lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, on Feb. 15, 2017.

Two years after India became the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, the country’s space agency can claim another record: The most satellites launched with a single rocket.

At 9:28 a.m. Tuesday morning, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) built by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the Bay of Bengal, carrying 104 satellites from seven countries. By 10 a.m., all had successfully been inserted into orbit, and India had surpassed a bar previously set by a Russian launch of 37 satellites in 2014.

“This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation,” the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted. “India salutes our scientists.”

In recent years, India has gained a reputation for reliable, inexpensive satellite launches; Tuesday’s launch positions it to gain an even bigger share of this fast-growing market.

“India offers launch costs that are fifty percent cheaper than the rest of the world,” Pallava Bagla, a science editor with the privately run Indian TV channel NDTV, told Al Jazeera last June, so if SpaceX, Arianespace or NASA can do it at $100, India is willing to do it at $50.”

If anything, that may be an understatement. On Wednesday,’s Sidhartha Shukla reported that launching a satellite through SpaceX could cost around $60 million, but “ISRO charged an average of [$3 million] per satellite between 2013 and 2015.”

ISRO’s strong position in the satellite-launch market had an inauspicious start. The first PSLV, launched in 1993, failed because of software glitches.

By persevering with the program, ISRO was able to take advantage of the country’s talented, but relatively low-wage, workforce to bring launch costs down.

Ramabhadran Aravamudan, former director of the ISRO Satellite Center in Bangalore, attributed India’s low launch prices to “cheaper labor costs and a state-led model that doesn't involve ‘industries with their own profit margins,’ ” CNN reported.

This approach runs counter to the United State's current strategy of turning orbital spaceflight over to private firms as a means to bring costs down.

But ISRO has nonetheless found plenty of customers, and managed to capitalize on another recent trend: the development of lightweight, inexpensive “CubeSats” and “SmallSats” that can be packed into a single rocket.

Tuesday’s launch delivered 103 of these smaller satellites – 88 of which belonged to the San Francisco-based imaging company Planet – into orbit, along with a larger environmental satellite. Last year, private launches like these brought in 230 rupees crore (about $34 million) for ISRO’s commercial arm.

The experience has also enabled ISRO to set more ambitious goals, on a tight budget. The country’s Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter reached the Red Planet in 2014 at a cost of $75 million – less than the budget for the 2013 Sci-Fi thriller “Gravity.”

“They're not at the level of the Big 4,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told The Christian Science Monitor last May, referring to the space programs of the US, Russia, China, and Europe. ”But they’re pretty darn good.”

[Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the US dollar value of 230 rupees crore. It is $34 million.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to For the record: India launches 104 satellites all at once
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today