India launches first ISRO space laboratory

The Astrosat spacecraft is launched into orbit. Image courtesy of ISRO.
The Astrosat spacecraft is launched into orbit. Image courtesy of ISRO.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched the country’s first ever space laboratory over the weekend.

The laboratory itself, called Astrosat, was launched from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, marking yet another success for the country’s budding space program.

“About 20 minutes after a perfect lift-off at 10am from our spaceport, the rocket has placed Astrosat in the intended orbit,” said mission director B Jayakumar according to The Guardian.

Astrosat was launched atop of an ISRO Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in the heaviest ‘XL’ configuration. Following the launch, it reached a predetermined orbit at an altitude of between 644.6 and 651.5 km above Earth.

The spacecraft itself will function primarily as a space telescope, and has been billed by its proponents as a ‘mini-Hubble, despite its shorter 5 year lifespan.

Astrosat’s main mission will be to observe the universe in not just visible light, but also in the X-ray and UV spectrums.

The 5 specialised instruments enabling this were developed by a number of Indian institutions including the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) of Pune, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) at Mumbai, as well as others in the country and abroad.

The instruments themselves will be used to make observations ranging from bodies within the solar system, to far away pulsars and black holes.

“It is one of the first scientific missions which will be available to the Indian researcher community as an observation opportunity. This is a starting point for such things,” ISRO’s chairman AS Kiran Kumar said according to the BBC.

Alongside Astrosat, this latest PSLV launch also carried 6 other satellites for a number of paying foreign customers.

Value for money

The launch of Astrosat is the most ambitious spacecraft launched by ISRO since its widely-praised Mars Orbiter Mission, which successfully sent a probe to Mars for a fraction of the cost of similar US craft.

Similarly, Astrosat reportedly only cost the Indian government 1.8bn Rupees ($27.3m), much less than comparable systems.

Despite this, many still criticise India for space spending when a significant percentage of its population is still living in poverty.