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India's Low-Cost, Record-Setting Space Launch

Included will be 88 shoebox-sized satellites from U.S.-based Planet that will create the largest private satellite network ever.

Next week, the Indian Space Research Organization will make history as it attempts to disperse a record 104 satellites with a single rocket. This would crush NASA’s best of 29 satellite deployments and soar above the previous all-time high of 37 set by the Russians in 2014.

Of the 104 satellites, 88 are from the U.S-based global imaging company Planet, while the remainder stem from Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

While most are for varying commercial communications purposes, the three larger Indian satellites will observe and measure the Earth’s atmosphere.

The satellites will be launched into sun-synchronous orbit about 300 miles above the earth, courtesy of a 320-ton Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The satellites will be distributed at different angles and at different times over the course of the PSLV’s 90-minute orbit stretching between the North and South Poles. Their relative velocity should ensure that the distance between them continues to increase in avoiding collisions.

The incredible number of satellites incorporated into this single launch stems from, surprise, surprise, ISRO’s reputation as a low-cost satellite launch option. In fact, the agency actually scrapped plans for an 83-satellite launch when the opportunity to add 20 more could be accommodated by a later launch date.

Going back to the source of the 88 U.S. satellites, Planet is a San Francisco-based startup that already operates a fleet of 60 orbiting cameras. They also recently bought Google’s Terra Bella satellite business. With these new additions Planet will be able to photograph every place on the entire planet … every day. They will operate the largest private satellite constellation ever built.

Nice to meet you Big Brother.

So as one company looks to literally cover the planet, the mission will also replenish the ISRO coffers. While specific dollar amounts are not available, it’s been reported that revenues from the launch are twice the amount of any costs. This is good news for an agency with its sights set on unmanned launches to Jupiter and Venus.

Imagine that – a financially self-supportive government agency.

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