India successfully launched its first space observatory and six satellites into orbit on Monday, officials said, the latest step forward for a country looking to become a major player in the lucrative space market.
The observatory, named Astrosat, was launched from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, said the Indian Space and Research Organization, or ISRO. Astrosat will attempt a deeper study of the universe, especially star systems.
India's junior science minister, Y.S. Choudhury, said the launch of the observatory was part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision for India's space program.
Modi, who is currently visiting the United States, tweeted his congratulations:
Last September, India joined an elite club when it successfully guided its Mars Orbiter Mission, called Mangalyaan, into orbit around the red planet. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency had done that before.
In December, India launched the country's heaviest rocket, weighing 630 tons. India, which is striving to become a player in the multibillion-dollar space market, has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, but has faced problems sending up heavier payloads.
The launch vehicle that put Astrosat in orbit also carried satellites from Indonesia, Canada and the United States.
The Astrosat, which has a mission life of five years, will send its data to a control center in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. Astronomy institutes across the country will also have access to the data, ISRO said.
India, known as much for its crushing poverty as for its technological prowess, has used research in space and elsewhere to help solve problems at home, from gauging water levels in underground aquifers to predicting cataclysmic storms and floods.
India's $1 billion-a-year space program has helped develop satellite, communication and remote sensing technologies that are being used to measure coastal soil erosion, assess the extent of remote flooding and manage forest cover for wildlife sanctuaries.
They are giving fishermen real-time data on where to find fish and helping to predict natural disasters such as a cyclone that barreled into India's eastern coast last year. Early warning information allowed Indian officials to evacuate nearly a million people from the massive storm's path.