India launched a communication satellite using its most powerful rocket on Monday, improving its prospects of winning a bigger share of the more than $300 billion global space industry and its hopes of a manned mission.
The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III, or “Fat Boy”, lifted off from the Sriharikota space centre in southern India at 5.28 p.m. (1158 GMT) in clear blue skies.
At 3,136 kg (6,914 lb), or more than three tonnes and the height of a 13-storey building, the GSAT-19 satellite is the heaviest India has tried to put in orbit, the space agency said.
The United States, Russia, China, Japan and European Space Agency have the capability to launch satellites weighing more than three tonnes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists behind the launch and said it took India closer to the next generation of launch capabilities.
“The nation is proud,” he tweeted.
Modi’s government has been promoting a domestic space programme as a demonstration of low-cost technology and in February it launched 104 satellites in a single mission, most of them for foreign customers.
The Indian space agency has also considered a manned space mission involving sending astronauts into a low-Earth orbit, but the programme has not yet been cleared by the government.
In 2014, scientists first flew the GSLV Mk III and ran checks on an unmanned crew module on board, suggesting that it would be the launch platform for a manned mission in future.
“GSLV Mk III has put GSAT 19, which is a next generation satellite, into orbit,” Indian Space Research Organisation chief A.S. Kiran Kumar said. “It is a perfect launch. The information from the satellite is being tracked. And it is good.”
The rocket used a cryogenic engine, developed in India after the United States leaned on Russia in the 1990s not to supply such a powerful engine in case it was used for missiles.
In May, India launched a communications satellite for its smaller neighbours to share, part of its efforts to build goodwill in the region.
A 2015 Space Foundation report pegged the global space industry at $323 billion. India’s share of global launch services industry is about 0.6 percent, government data shows.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Louise Ireland)